Software Donation Makes Big Splash at Marine Mammal Center

SAUSALITO, Calif., Oct. 4, 1999 — Perched on rocky shores overlooking the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco, the Marine Mammal Center rescues and rehabilitates more than 600 animals each year, more than any other institution in the world. For 25 years, the center’s 40 veterinarians and administrative staff, and more than 800 volunteers — who bottle-feed young sea lions and nurse other animals back to health — have operated with little more than paper records and 15-year-old computer technology.

The center, a nonprofit organization supported by private and corporate donations, works hard to keep its administrative costs to a minimum. So when Executive Director Margaret Burks launched a drive to make the center, located west of Sausalito, Calif., a world-class facility by investing in technology, she knew it would mean calling on others to make the vision a reality.

Microsoft was among those to respond to the call. Now the Marine Mammal Center is running on donated Microsoft software, including two Windows NT servers, one running Exchange and another running NT’s file and print sharing services.

The new system, which also includes hardware from Hewlett-Packard and networking equipment from 3Com, replaces a hodgepodge of older computers strung together in a point-to-point network. Previously, incompatible record-keeping systems were unable to communicate; with the new software and hardware, a single network can track an animal from the time it is rescued through its rehabilitation and eventual release back into the wild.

Beyond the efficiency the new system brings to the internal staff, it also will benefit researchers around the world. The second phase of the technology initiative calls for creation of a Web-based research center. Outside teams soon will be able to tap into the center’s extensive database for insight into how their treatment of an animal compares with the center’s approach.

Charles Earnest, the community liaison for Microsoft’s Northern California District who approved the $80,000 software donation, said the project was easy to embrace because of the passion and commitment the center’s volunteers brought to the program.

“It is exciting to see the power of this technology harnessed for such a noble cause — saving endangered mammals,”
Earnest said.
“The new Web site will be an important resource for scientists worldwide who work tirelessly to protect our global habitat.”

One volunteer, Bud Garrison, is serving as the project manager for bringing the new computer network on line. Center executives turned to Garrison, a consultant on health-care information systems, for technical expertise when they first launched their technology initiative.

Garrison wears many volunteer hats at the center. One recent morning, he staffed the animal-rescue hotline, and between an interviewer’s questions about the networking project, answered calls reporting stranded marine wildlife.

If he were to bill for his technical services, the center would not be able to afford him. As a volunteer, he has put in scores of hours on the networking project, from reviewing specifications to overseeing installation and configuration of the new system.

He is enlisting center volunteers with credentials as Microsoft-certified developers and database administrators to write a custom application for clinical charting of marine mammals. The application, based on Microsoft Access, will enable center veterinarians to track an animal’s rehabilitative progress, charting how well the animal is eating and sending reminders when blood needs to be drawn.

Once the full technology plan is in place, anyone who reports a stranded animal will be able to go to the center’s Web site to check the creature’s recovery. The site, located at, currently offers details about the center’s operations, a description of its Adopt-A-Seal program, and volunteer information.

For the center’s director, the Microsoft donation represents an optimal relationship in which each partner focuses on what it does best.
“We know how to take care of marine mammals and understand the issues they face to survive,”
Burks said.
“Microsoft is taking care of our technology needs and becoming a valued technology partner.”

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