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MBA Grad's Red Cross Service Took a Turn During Hurricane Katrina

September 26, 2005

Drexel University's LeBow College of Business One-Year MBA graduate Devon Segel Lipskyhad only been working at the American Red Cross for a month when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

Despite her short tenure at the nation's leading disaster relief agency, and the fact she was posted in its Philadelphia office, more than 1,000 miles from the disaster scene, the 25-year-old from Cherry Hill, N.J., put her stamp on the response.

Lipsky was quick to recognize a major problem emerging in the wake of the storm. Numerous well-meaning organizations were setting up Web sites to help put victims in touch with their loved ones, but the sites were each run separately. She learned of the situation from a friend who was looking to contact family in the disaster zone.

"What this (situation) meant was that this person who contacted me would now have to search through, not one, but 30 sites to see if his family had posted," Lipsky said. "I thought that was a bit too challenging for someone who was already going though a crisis."

And for displaced victims with limited access to the Web, taking the time to post their information on 30 different sites was sure to be impossible.

At the time, the Red Cross was addressing the disaster in so many other ways that the issue of coordinating various Web search sites had not come up. Lipsky decided to take on the problem herself, first by notifying contacts at Comcast, then by reaching out to Google, the leading search engine company.

A few days later, she heard back from Google that it was able to establish two special ways for people to more efficiently search for storm-displaced loved ones. Google's Katrina Search limited a search to Web content specifically related to Katrina in order to weed out extraneous information. Google's Katrina People Search consolidated the Red Cross database of affected people with similar databases, creating a master list that was far more efficient to search than going through site after site.

Illustrating just how valuable that was: by the time Katrina People Search launched there were some 130 separate sites out there, Lipsky said.

She works as Electronic Marketing Manager for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Red Cross. Lipsky said she is no computer scientist but, thanks in part to her Drexel MBA education - which included a course on how technology relates to business strategy, and a presentation on Google by fellow students - she felt comfortable approaching the search-engine giant.

"I knew how to articulate what we were looking for from a public-needs standpoint," she explained.

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