Tips and Tricks

Paperless Workflow For Disaster Relief Operations

During the 20th century, advancements in scientific research gave way to new technologies that allowed people to become more adept at predicting disasters, estimating their potential risks and taking preventive actions. However, this does not reduce the statistical probability of disaster occurrence. In the last 100 years, the US was hit by over 300 storms, almost 250 floods and 100+ cyclones. Fatalities from these disasters lie in the thousands while economic losses to households and the economy are calculated in billions of USD overall.

The response speed for relief operations and aid provision is of vital importance. The numbers speak for themselves: the 1900 storm of Galveston, TX, the deadliest in US history, claimed over 6,000 lives, while the recent Hurricane Irma took only 134. Being connected to the internet and having online organizations that manage activities, people and payments saves lives.

When disaster strikes, the internet becomes one of the least important necessities for those affected. However, it is online organizations which help to perform a large amount of the legwork for disaster relief. Here are some examples how paperless workflow can help during difficult times by improving the organization of people, data and financial transactions.

Versatile Online Management of Volunteering

In the event of a disaster, reaching out for help is one of the first things people do. Many people and volunteers will be needed and helping people avoid delays such as traffic jams and long waiting lines for registration is crucial.

Instead of asking potential volunteers to travel to a place of registration, a shared link to a registration form via email or social media is far more effective. Thus, all volunteers can register from any location in a matter of seconds, they can also forward the signing link on to other people or post it on their personal social media pages. In this way, the process of collecting all signed volunteer registration forms along with data detailing the skills and experience of every volunteer is streamlined. All signed forms will be automatically saved in secure cloud storage on your private account.

Later, you can set up teams of volunteers; each team for a specific type of activity. The same applies to paperless workflow: you can create Document Groups for separate teams and thus organize efficient bulk sending. Each team will manage their own set of documents, avoiding spam or overloading volunteers with documents.  

Determine the needs of disaster victims

According to Charity Watch, one of the most important and time-consuming issues during a disaster relief campaign is to determine the most urgent needs of affected citizens as soon as possible. Misinformation concerning the needs of those affected can lead to confusion and potentially extend the suffering of victims.

One of the most efficient ways of obtaining accurate and full data on people’s needs is by using customized online application forms. Be as specific as possible when creating questionnaires – use radio buttons and drop down menus attached directly to the form, leave blank fields to be personally filled in by respondents. Make sure the application is user-friendly so that even someone in a high-stress situation will be able to easily complete it. The less time an affected citizen spends on filling your form – the faster you’ll be able to collect and organize their data to provide aid.

Donate payments, not food

After hurricanes Katrina and the most recent Irma, both charity funds and relief workers began questioning the expediency of product donations. Giving away food or warm blankets may seem like a noble, generous idea but volunteers see it differently. Sorting, organizing and delivering donations takes enormous time and resources. Food starts to rot, other items sometimes require additional cleaning, pairs of shoes get separated in the massive piles of donated clothes. Numerous donations clutter up warehouses and volunteer offices and become an unhelpful burden for volunteers. It’s no wonder workers engaged in disaster relief operations insist on online payments instead. Donating online contributes to a more efficient use of funds and better targeting of relief assistance.

Use SignNow’s Advanced Forms to send out donation requests to all contacts in your database: once a recipient receives and signs the volunteer form – they will be prompted to submit their online payment, details are provided automatically. You can also set the preferred sum of donation, the currency of payment and a donation expiration date.

 Apply for tax relief and assistance grants online

In times of disaster, state authorities usually react by providing tax relief and extensions for all affected citizens. After Hurricane Irma, the IRS provided both relief and extensions. However, in order to apply for those an affected person is supposed to fill special forms. Since those tax relief and extension forms are available online in PDF format, the easiest and fastest way to fill them would be by using PDFfiller’s document editor as well as accessing their online library which contains more than 25 million forms. In many cases,  disaster victims will also need to provide an explanation letter describing the details of their damages along with other supporting documents to confirm the losses they’re reported. Using SignNow, users can both sign and send their documents for signing.

State authorities in countries frequently suffering from disasters have already acknowledged the advantages of paperless workflow, speed and efficiency most prominently. In the US, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is responsible for providing grants and other assistance. Cases range from loans and rental assistance, in situations where a home has been completely destroyed, to coverage of childcare and vehicle repairs. FEMA has its own mobile app that allows users to easily apply for federal assistance and track their application status. Other, non-state organizations also involved in assistance provision may use alternative online tools for signing and document processing. Using SignNow, for example, an applicant can add fields to their application form, sign and email it back to an agency in minutes. Another example would be that of a relief assistance manager who can invite up to 1,000 recipients at once for signing while monitoring the signature process.

Take full advantage of disaster discounts

Affected citizens are able to enjoy significant benefits which range from tuition fee waivers and airfare tickets to discounts at retail stores. Setting up paperless workflow for shops and service centers offering these sorts of discounts is easy: set your SignNow account to Kiosk Mode and begin collecting registration data and in-person e-signatures from clients applying for disaster relief discount directly on your iPad.

Organize volunteers, conduct field research, donate and collect payments, distribute discounts and waivers – all using SignNow. Start today with a free trial and find out for yourself why SignNow’s   paperless workflow solution is the best fit for your organization.

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