Focus On Solutions

High-tech solution to humanitarian needs

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A special award is being given to a San Francisco man who has used his business smarts to help humanitarian organizations here in the Bay Area and around the world. He has created technology to help solve inefficiencies in how those agencies cope with disasters.

When disaster strikes, most of us want to help. But how we do it, and even how disaster relief agencies themselves respond, is not necessarily the most efficient way.

"Although there's enormous good intention and an enormous amount of resources in many disasters like Katrina, it was really the lack of preparedness, the lack of processes, procedures in backrooms," says Lynn Fritz of the Fritz Institute.

Fritz is changing that. He was the owner of a San Francisco-based freight processing company operating in more than 100 countries. He sold it to UPS in 2001 and has transferred his knowledge to a new arena.

"My wife actually came up with the idea that perhaps humanitarian operations, disaster relief operations, could utilize supply chain management," says Fritz.

At its simplest level it's all about logistics. When supplies absolutely, positively have to get there in a crisis like a tsunami, Fritz and his non-profit, Fritz Institute, help relief agencies operate like a business.

"When something happens in a disaster, 80 percent of the execution is getting goods from one place to the other, buying them, getting them donated, understanding where they are," says Fritz.

The Fritz Institute has developed computer software technology which it gives free of charge to agencies like Oxfam and the International Redcross. With the technology, they know precisely what supplies are on hand, where they can get more and can track inventory that's already on its way. The system has solved much of the chaos.

Fritz is now being recognized for his work by the McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. It's the first award of its kind given by the university.

The motto of this Jesuit school is educating minds and hearts to change the world.

"We sort of felt like this was a great way in which we could sort of to symbolize that. We could identify someone who has taken that to heart," says Patrick Murphy with the USF McCarthy Center.

The Fritz Institute's prize winning work is not just global, but local as well. It targets poor, underserved communities.

"There's a whole lot of new learning since Katrina in the disaster field and it's so critical that agencies like St. Anthony's get that new expertise," says Cissy Bonini with St. Anthony's.

Twenty-six hundred people eat at St. Anthony's each day and even more are likely to flock there during an emergency like an earthquake. The Fritz Institute offers a resource called Bay Prep.

"They bring in for example structural engineers that have reviewed our facilities to tell us which areas will be most operable in a major disaster. They have done a GPS mapping of vulnerable populations," says Bonini.

There has been training for numerous community organizations like the Mission Neighborhood Health Center. The Bay Prep initiative is designed to make the Bay Area the most prepared region in the nation when disaster strikes.

"It's these organizations that do the work and honestly this is a privilege to help them," says Fritz.

The prize Fritz is receiving from USF includes $10,000. It's money he's putting right back into Bay Prep.

For more information about the Fritz Institute, visit: www.fritzinstitute.org

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