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version: October 2001

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1. Health and Human Services

Volunteers in the HIV Prevention Project, part of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (California), use handheld technology to collect client statistics and other data in the field. Volunteers collect anonymous data directly at the Project's needle exchange sites, recording how many syringes are exchanged, apparent ethnicity and gender of those exchanging needles, and how many people a person is exchanging for. This process helps eliminate paper processing and make data collection more uniform and immediately available for review. The Project designed a device to keep the handheld computer on the volunteer's person at all times so the device does not get lost. Challenges in using these devices: some decreased eye contact between volunteers and exchangers, it can be difficult to see screen in direct sunlight, input takes several key strokes (some think too many), and entry into computer takes a few seconds longer than writing it on paper. The Project's advice for programs considering creating ways for volunteers to use handheld computer technologies as part of service:

Neighbor's Consejo, serves homeless and low-income people in the culturally-diverse neighborhoods of Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and Adams-Morgan in Washington, D.C. Neighbor's Consejo connects the homeless with services to assist them in establishing self-sufficiency and independent living. In summer 2001, Neighbors' Consejo will pilot a new outreach initiative using personal digital assistants. This new technology will make referral resources and organizational contacts more readily available to street-level outreach workers, and provide them with an easy way to collect comprehensive and systematic neighborhood and individual level data for program evaluation and enhancement. Volunteers will compile street level geo-spatial data on neighborhood conditions associated with homelessness, neighborhood level indicators, including the location and points of congregation of the homeless, migration of homeless population based on seasonal or other effects, abandoned homes and buildings, number of liquor stores and open air drug markets in the community, and other neighborhood indicators. They will also compile data on outreach contacts, including ratings of physical conditions and brief behavioral questionnaires for street contacts. Collecting both neighborhood and individual level data will provide Neighbors Consejo with much needed information to assess the efficacy of its outreach efforts. Neighbors Consejo will make available a list of lessons learned, instrumentation/forms developed for this project, and sample maps on its web site. More information is available from Carlos Manjarrez of The Urban Institute's Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy.

In 2001, the Visiting Nurses' Association Home Health Systems in Santa Ana, California gave Palm Pilot handheld devices to 75 nurses. They are used to connect nurses with medical files during home visits, and to record the vital statistics of patients during such visits. Forms that used to take nurses 45 minutes to an hour to complete now take 30 to 35 minutes. Some nurses save additional time because they can electronically transfer the data to their employers from their home computers, eliminating long drives to the office simply to drop off forms. As one nurse noted, in an article by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "I went into nursing because I wanted to take care of kids and because I wanted to be with people, not because I wanted to sit behind my desk and do all my paperwork."

Save the Children is working with the University of Wisconsin's Disaster Management Center to use handhelds to collect data about communities in Nicaragua. Microsoft is granting $150,000 in cash, as well software and consulting time to the project. In Nicaraguan field tests, aid workers use Compaq Computer's iPaq handheld computers, which use the Pocket PC OS. The whole system is powered by Microsoft's SQL database. The aid workers gather information on items such as nutrition or population makeup and can access about 20 previous surveys. Workers compare the baseline data to new data and find out what a local area's needs are, such as a bridge being washed out. Protected by rugged cases, the machines are taken by motorcycle through the jungle to a local headquarters where the data is uploaded to the Save the Children network. In an exercise simulating the aftermath of a major hurricane, Save the Children said it was able to gather comprehensive data in less than nine hours using the setup, compared with a week or longer in the past. "Faster information gathering means a faster response, and a faster response means saving lives," Dennis Walto, manager of the handheld device program at Save the Children, said in a statement. "By gathering and reporting crucial data electronically, we will be able to reach disaster victims in a more timely and effective way." Eventually, aid workers may be able to transmit the data from the field using a wireless telephone or high-frequency radio that could beam it thousands of miles.

Mercy Corps, an aid agency, is receiving $150,000 cash from Microsoft, as well software, hardware and technical expertise, to create a software system for tracking relief supplies on PDAs such as tents and cooking oil. According to an article by Reuters Limited Aid, workers will know exactly what goods are in stock and where each item is going.

Microsoft also helped create an identification system for Kosovo refugees who had been stripped of identification cards, land deeds, birth certificates and other important documents. The project registered 500,000 refugees and helped reunite families and speed delivery of relief supplies.

Handheld devices played a vital role in evacuation and rescue efforts following the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Civilians and emergency staff alike used cell phones to notify others of events as they unfolded, of evacuation routes, and of rescue needs. The Handspring Foundation, the corporate giving arm of Handspring, Inc., responded to a Red Cross appeal for assistance with a donation of 500 Visor handhelds and 500 VisorPhones. The wireless handheld computers were used by the Red Cross, New York Police Department, and New York Fire Department to assist rescue workers communicate during their search and rescue efforts.


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