ATA Helps Red Cross With Hurricane Relief

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The American Teleservices Association reached out to members and their call center representatives nationwide yesterday to support the American Red Cross in relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina.


ATA's leadership has contacted its 600 members, asking them to have their employees visit the trade lobby's site at www.ataconnect.org and click through to donate to the Red Cross. The ATA members collectively have an estimated 1 million call center employees.


"We came to the conclusion that the American Red Cross would be our charity of choice because they can focus the combination of money and expertise the quickest," ATA CEO Tim Searcy said from Indianapolis.


A prominent square-button banner unit on the ATA site home page lists the Redcross.org Web address and the 1-800-HELP NOW toll-free number. The headline urges, "Victims of Hurricane Katrina need your help now ..." Clicking on the link takes the visitor directly to the relevant page.


ATA members are looking to help in other ways, too. Searcy and his staff are tracking stories from members of their corporate efforts to help during this crisis. Some members have packed trucks to ship goods needed by the displaced many.


Searcy thinks this is the teleservices industry's time to give back to society.


"Teleservices has always played a big role in fundraising for causes," he said. "This gives us a chance to donate as a group to a cause that's important to all of us."


Meanwhile, Internet broadband telephone company Vonage donated hardware and local and long-distance service for Louisiana's beleaguered Baton Rouge General hospital to make and receive calls.


The Edison, NJ-based telecom firm helped the hospital through its Vonations charitable donation program. PHNS, the hospital's Dallas-based IT outsourcing supplier, and three other firms led the drive to ensure a communications continuum with the outside world.


Baton Rouge General, a major hospital in Baton Rouge, LA, is running on generator power to support the overflow of patients injured by Hurricane Katrina. The hospital's local phones were restored soon after the hurricane, but long-distance service was affected. Staffers need to call physicians, insurers, specialists and family members who live outside Baton Rouge. That's when Vonage stepped in with its Internet broadband phone service.


Baton Rouge General also needs notebook computers with wireless Internet access. A shipment of 20 computers from Dell Inc. arrived yesterday. And a RadioShack store on Baton Rouge's Florida Street also donated hardware.


The notebook PCs will be used to receive records, reports and data on patients. The computers also will help in the emergency room and triage area as well as let the hospital contact doctors in other cities.


Communication is key, as ATA's experience shows. The disaster has affected communication with some of its members, which haven't responded to overtures. About one-sixth of its members, roughly 100 firms, are based in the hurricane-affected Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi. They employ thousands of workers in their call centers in rep, supervisor or other administrative capacities.


Most of the ATA members and their staff in the Gulf Coast states have been busy trying to organize their businesses, Searcy said.


"When the last hurricane came through in Florida, it took literally weeks for member companies to be able to ask the ATA for specific help," he said. "We've been reaching out by e-mail and phone to members in the four states affected by Katrina, and now we wait for them to get back in touch with us."


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