Creating a scaleable rota system for emergencies

Shefna Baldwin
Dec 7, 2020 · 3 min read

Shefna is a Senior Data Analyst in the Data and CRM directorate at the British Red Cross.

We’ve been working hard to roll out a new rota system that will help to mobilise volunteers during an emergency. When we began this journey, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower was used as a reference point for a hypothetical emergency which would require the creation of a large-scale rota. Nobody could have foreseen something like COVID-19 overtaking this scale and proving that this system is an essential tool for us.

A prototype was tested with Emergency Response volunteers earlier in the year and since then, we’ve been developing and testing in cycles to create a product that fits the needs of the volunteers doing shifts and staff organising shifts.

A scalable data model

One focus of the data team is to ensure that there is a set standard in place across the many directorates of the Red Cross. This can be challenging to do since it is not uncommon for teams to work independently of one another. The production of data artefacts is one way that we can help to create that structure and to help the business talk about different areas of the rota system. The logical data model — or Entity Relationship Data Model (ERD), is one key document that helps to identify the various relationships an entity may have.

To provide some context, let’s use the example of a ROTA entity. This is in fact a table containing specific information about a rota. The diagram below denotes some of the key details we’ll hold on a rota within the ‘key attributes’ box.

Part of the standard data model at British Red Cross

A ROTA is currently defined as being the collection of shifts pertaining to a time period and this may be for a regular rota or for an emergency, for example, a flood.

As the diagram shows, there are a number of connections with the ROTA entity. Specifying these relationships will help to make reporting easier and in this way, we’ll also be able to target any pain points in the future.

Testing and learning with a real service

The rota is now is being trialled by a real service, our coronavirus phone line, which has dozens of volunteers who answer calls from people who need emergency food or simply someone to talk to. We want to further test and improve the rota system, before opening it up to other Red Cross teams around the UK.

Behind every tool

Every tool needs a team. The rota system is no different. Getting this point of starting small and scaling wouldn’t have been possible without a multiple disciplinary team and senior support:

  • Delivery management — Dalia Dromantaite
  • Product management — Rachel Kirvan
  • Software development — CloudThing
  • Data analysis — Shefna Baldwin
  • Subject matter experts — Laura Basegmezer and Anna Grafitti
  • Design — Harry Trimble
  • Support line operations — John Picket, Mick Askham and Sandra Howitt
  • Senior sponsorship — Ian Goodman and Richard Jarvis
  • Stakeholder engagement — Sally Fernandes and George Weyman