REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 9, 2005 – As the images replay over and over on televisions worldwide, it’s clear that the most basic needs – food, water and shelter – are the priority in disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
Like many individuals and companies worldwide, Microsoft and its employees have responded with cash donations and other support to address the immediate needs of the hundreds of thousands of evacuees across the Gulf Coast. To date, Microsoft and its employees have donated US$4 million in cash to relief organizations, and the company is providing an additional $5 million in technology assistance and support.
In the hours and days immediately following the hurricane, Microsoft employees worked to speed relief to individuals, non-profits, government agencies and customers by doing what they do best – using technology to solve problems and help improve people’s lives.
In the last few days, Microsoft has had many inquires from customers, partners and the media about how it, and its employees, have responded, especially in the use of technology, to help evacuees and relief and government agencies. To address these requests, Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs Pamela Passman discussed the company’s efforts in a recent roundtable discussion with Ron Markezich, Microsoft’s chief information officer, and Jennifer Heard, general manager of the company’s South Central District, which includes the affected states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The following discussion touches on some of these efforts:
Pamela Passman: Our employees know they’re empowered to make a difference, and the ways they have jumped in to help on the relief efforts have been both inspiring and ingenious. For example, the day the storm hit, Jim Carroll, one of our database architects in Birmingham, Ala., knew that there would be a need for people separated from their families to let loved ones know they’re safe. Jim and a half-dozen other Microsoft engineers from California, Florida, Alabama and Texas worked virtually nonstop for four days to develop katrinasafe.com, an online tool being used by the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas to help evacuees find family members separated by the crisis. Since the site went live on Sept. 5, information about tens of thousands of evacuees has been registered on the site, and it’s being updated continuously with information from relief centers across the region.
The site was built in partnership and in consultation with technology partners and non-profits. KatrinaSafe.com shares data with Yahoo!, Google and others for the purpose of assisting in family location. We are working with government agencies and non-profits to continue to look for ways to make this technology helpful to their needs.
A team of Microsoft engineers helped build Katrina Safe.com.
Jennifer Heard: Microsoft employees aren’t shy, so it didn’t surprise me when I heard that Todd Ellison, one of our technical account managers, walked into Bass Computers, a wholesale computer-parts distributor in Houston, and asked if they would be willing to donate two laptop computers for disaster relief efforts. On the strength of Todd’s business card and an explanation of the work he was doing to assist local officials, he was out the door in five minutes with laptops needed by the chief information officers for the City of Houston and Harris County, Texas.
Ron Markezich: Just as there’s an urgent need to re-establish utilities like water and power to these hard-hit communities, there’s an incredible need for technology that can help people get connected and share information. John Morello, a senior Microsoft consultant in south Louisiana, and Matthew Lonergan, a technical specialist for our Groove product, helped build and deploy a system to help Louisiana State University medical staff triage patient medical needs and track volunteer doctors. In the days immediately after the hurricane, John also saw the need for an e-mail system that volunteers could use to help evacuees connect with people they’d been separated from. The Microsoft Hotmail team created the accounts in under four hours, and this has already helped reunite dozens of families. Suresh Babu, group program manager at Hotmail, then orchestrated a cross-team effort to help tens of thousands of evacuees set up and use free Hotmail e-mail accounts to let friends and family know they’re OK, check in with employers, contact their insurance companies, even keep in touch with other victims of the hurricane
Pamela Passman: Another employee in Microsoft’s Houston office, Dawn Gagnon, a mobility solutions specialist, arranged for the delivery of Microsoft Smartphones to 30 doctors at the main Red Cross medical triage site in Baton Rouge, and 150 Texas National Guard command-post leaders being deployed to Louisiana to help with relief efforts. With land lines and switching stations down throughout Louisiana, the Smartphones were a top priority of the Texas National Guard to help command leaders stay in touch with one another. Dawn thought through all the small details that might otherwise have kept the phones from being put to immediate use in the field. She put together a makeshift assembly line of friends, family and neighbors in her house where, for 12 hours, they activated and charged all the phones, wrote the phone numbers on the phones, and made up waterproof bags that included car chargers and extra batteries.
Jennifer Heard: In Redmond, we have a group that is putting together 200 boxes of sanitation and first-aid kits – about a ton of supplies. They’ll be shipped to the Microsoft office in Houston where our employees will pick them up and take them to a local airport where four private planes are at the ready to fly the supplies to Baton Rouge. From there, they’ll be picked up by local charities and dispersed to those in need.
Pamela Passman: Speaking of flying, Bill Steele, an Indiana-based Microsoft developer evangelist and private pilot, has been using his own twin-engine plane to shuttle food and supplies to areas of need. Flying out of Baton Rouge, Bill has delivered 17,500 MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), mostly to the lower part of Mississippi.
Ron Markezich: Our people have also been on the ground working side-by-side with relief agencies, whose IT needs are so immense. Steve Lough, an account manager in our federal sales office, led a team of senior Microsoft technologists working in partnership with Intel, Cisco and SBC at the Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. to help create a communications infrastructure for relief shelters, establish computer kiosks for evacuees and Red Cross workers, and dispense financial assistance broadly. Microsoft also worked with the Red Cross to establish a solid core data infrastructure to meet the huge increase in demand on the agency’s IT system. And Murali Krishnan, a group program manager in MSN, led an effort of about 100 Microsoft employees to build a secure Web site hosted by MSN to accept donations for the Red Cross. Krishnan’s team built the site – http://donate.msn.com – in just 20 hours, unheard-of speed for a project of this magnitude. The Web site has already generated more than $3 million in donations for the Red Cross. Meanwhile, the guys over at Bungie Studios, a Microsoft subsidiary that developed the Halo games for the Xbox, also used the Web to sell more than $100,000 “Fight the Flood” charity T-shirts online. The proceeds will go to the Red Cross, as will all royalties earned from other Bungie Store products sold in September.
Jennifer Heard: We’re also working to help business customers in the region get back on their feet since they’re central to the rebuilding effort that will be required. We’ve been reaching out through our sales force to let business customers know that we’ll do whatever we can to assist. We’re waiving software licensing fees for up to six months for business customers, and we’re making premier-support consultants available to help them get their IT systems back up and running.
Pamela Passman: In the big picture, our contributions are modest, but individually and together, they have made a difference in peoples’ lives, and that’s what really matters.