Their Quality of Life (QOL) Mall (www.lifelines4qol.org), delivers information and editorial articles through an on-line environment comprising everything from community and family support to on-line training to basketball-safety tips.
“We have people scattered overseas, on ships, in submarines and embassies all over the world, yet we only have a limited number of family-service locations. Two-thirds of our personnel were unable to access the Quality of Life information we created,” said Randi Eltringham, director of Lifelines and manager of QOL from her D.C. office.
“Developing the Lifelines QOL network has allowed that expanded access to take care of personnel and their families on a 24-hour basis, he said.
For Ms. Eltringham and her group, the technology challenge began in 1995, when she asked if it was possible to broadcast the Navy’s QOL data to thousands of service personnel scattered all over the globe.
Within two months, a team consisting of one full-time and one part-time person had created a Web-site prototype. Today, the team consists of five government and up to 15 contract persons.
The Lifelines Internet site joins the QOL Broadcast Network that includes cable television, satellite and teleconferencing, as well as delivery services and the traditional brick-and-mortar community centers.
“We came to grips with the fact that due to an austere funding environment we had to find new ways of doing business to leverage partnerships with technology,” Ms. Eltringham said. “The issue of the magnitude of the number of people we need to reach makes us and the challenge unique.”
Previously, services were only available through 88 family centers located at naval and Marine Corps bases that could only be accessed by phone or in person during limited hours of operation.
The Lifelines QOL network has removed those constraints and allows visitors,both military and civilian, access to four huge wings, laid out just like mall storefronts, of information:
Wing one is Community and Family Support, an area where both service personnel and their families can find seven virtual fronts of information covering topics such as health wellness and physical readiness, casualty assistance, community and family support, relocation information, character, ethics and leadership information, chaplain services and a spouse-resource center.
The second wing provides special support services for newcomers, parents, teens and parents, reserve troops, civilian personnel, single service members and veterans.
The third wing provides basic assistance with career and employment, housing, financial services, pets in the military and some of the mall’s retail element, such as service personnel-only exchanges and commissary.
The fourth wing is filled with leisure-time information, such as the QOL newsstand, sports and recreation, entertainment and travel. Personnel can sign up for courses, check into benefits and financial-aid programs and take professional-development classes.
Development of the site continues to evolve with state-of-the-art technology, including the addition of Lifelines 2000, which will provide enhanced services, including housing applications and voting assistance.
“We are moving from a static infrastructure of just [hypertext markup language] coding to database-driven technology that will make it possible to manage a site of this size much more efficiently, while being able to add information and expand to an endless number of sources,” said David Gagliano, system architect. “We are also integrating push technology to draw forward information to the user along.”
The Lifelines QOL site provides a perfect example of a thorough and comprehensive informational Web site tailored to a very specific audience. The thousands of pages of information found can assist the service person, civilian or retired military person in numerous ways, though Ms. Eltringham has hopes for a site that provides even more.
“I think the greatest gift we could give service members would be direct communication with family members, and we are in discussions right now on how to do that,” Ms. Eltringham said.
“Also, because some ships don’t have Internet access, we would like to develop a Lifelines CD-ROM and we encourage those ships to stock the shelves with information, even games, for personnel to access.”
Site of the Week: Quality of Life (QOL Mall)