Barcode Scanning Helps Salvation Army Distribute Goods in Haiti

Feb. 25, 2010
The Salvation Army is replacing handwritten paper index cards with high-tech barcode technology to ensure that more than 4,000 families in Haiti efficiently receive food, shelter and medical supplies. UPS has donated the technology and adapted it for disaster relief supply distribution.

A barcoded card helps the Salvation Army in Haiti manage the distribution of supplies by tracking goods received, the number of family members per household and their camp location.

The system is based on UPS’ Trackpad technology, which UPS customers use to track packages within campus environments as the packages move from the loading dock to distributed offices for delivery.

Salvation Army staff members will now be able to confirm what goods each family receives by tracking the information embedded in a laminated card that bears unique barcodes tied to the number of family members, their location in the makeshift camp that has sprung up in an adjacent soccer field and their needs. This system helps to ensure that all families receive the right supplies at the right time and may help reduce theft or fraud.

“The technology will improve the speed of the distribution, helping us to keep the process as orderly as possible,” explains Damaris Frick, manager of the Salvation Army’s camp in Port Au Prince. “At the moment, we are struggling with paper cards which disintegrate in the pockets of the bearers. It currently takes a team of 40 people to sweep through the camp to accomplish a replacement of damaged cards. That problem will be completely eliminated with this system. We will no longer need to manually input distribution data, which will also speed up and increase the accuracy of our reporting process to other non-government organizations and donors."

The tracking also will give the Salvation Army a way to track the families and their needs in the future as they move from the temporary camp where they currently live to more permanent shelter, she adds.

UPS logistics experts configured the specialized application in less than a week. UPS technology provider Cardinal Tracking provided the barcode cards and donated labor and equipment for the project. The system includes 4,000 laminated cards, two handheld scanners and a laptop.

Beyond the immediate need to optimize food distribution, the Salvation Army plans to use the barcode cards and tracking technology to help with the distribution of hygiene kits and tarps to prepare for the upcoming rainy season. The organization also is considering using the system at four other relief sites.