Consortium Coordinates Care 2

Organization integrates databases and information from dozens of groups.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 6, 2002

2 Min Read

A major impetus for creating the Office of Homeland Security, now being debated in Congress, is to improve data sharing between disparate government agencies. For a model of how that department's IT system might work, one need look no further than a data warehouse created by United Services Group, the organization that's coordinating aid to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York.

In the weeks after the attacks, aid organizations often tripped over each other trying to provide financial assistance, mental-health counseling, housing, and employment services to thousands of people. Those seeking help filled out paperwork at multiple agencies, and aid was often duplicated. It quickly became clear that a coordinated program was a must. "There was so much need that the individual organizations couldn't meet on their own, and someone had to coordinate their efforts," says Richard Flynn, chief technology officer at USG.

Flynn's data warehouse provides a single view of people being helped.

USG, a consortium of the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Safe Horizon, and 10 other agencies and charities, was created in December to do just that. Flynn's task, begun in early January, was to build a data warehouse combining information provided by those organizations to create a single view of the people being helped.

That posed a few challenges. On the technical side, the IT systems at the various charities not only were incompatible, but they were often old. Even more difficult was getting the organizations to share sensitive data they considered confidential.

Negotiations and written agreements took care of the legal and political issues. For the technical problems, USG assembled a data warehouse using IBM's DB2 database and DB2 Warehouse Manager. The system was up and running Feb. 1. Once a week, each agency sends updated information about its 9/11 clients, their benefits, and other data to USG using the File Transfer Protocol. Caseworkers access the database via the Internet to see what aid and services clients have received, making it easier to determine what else they need.

Because the information is usually in different formats (one charity might use "St." while another spells out "Street"), USG uses Ascential Software Corp.'s Integrity software to put the data into a standard format and identify duplicate records for elimination. Flynn says the 120,000 to 125,000 client records the agencies typically send is reduced to around 75,000.

"It's not a complex data model we're talking about," he says. The CTO says he sees the information system he has helped assemble as a possible blueprint for a centralized data system for the proposed Office of Homeland Security.

IBM donated software and three servers, valued at $1.5 million. Ascential's donated software is worth $420,000.

Photo of Richard Flynn by Sacha Lecca

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