AWS Public Sector Blog

How AWS is supporting nonprofits, governments, and communities impacted by Hurricane Ian

On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida. The Category 4 hurricane knocked out power to over four million customers in Florida and over 1.1 million in North Carolina and South Carolina. In the wake of severe storms such as Hurricane Ian, the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Disaster Preparedness and Response team leverages the AWS Cloud to help communities more efficiently prepare for and respond to disasters globally.

At the request of standby organizations Help.NGO and Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC), the AWS Disaster Preparedness and Response team assisted with response operations across a variety of functions in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Starting in Cape Coral, Florida, AWS helped Help.NGO with a wide range of activities including building a common operating picture in the AWS Cloud, conducting site assessments to understand needs, and establishing interim connectivity for community hubs like firehouses and distribution sites. These activities provided much needed help for first responders, relief organizations, and impacted individuals who rely on these centers for support.

Establishing connectivity

Connectivity is imperative for operational planning, managing resources, accessing critical data, and, during a natural disaster, is a life-line to connect with loved ones. When natural disasters strike, satellite communications (SATCOM) are best suited to rapidly deploy reliable connectivity for relief and recovery efforts.

In the wake of Hurricane Ian’s landfall, SES Space & Defense, a satellite communications provider and an AWS Direct Connect Delivery Partner, rapidly deployed a high-throughput low-latency satellite service and ground terminals to restore broadband connectivity to state agencies and distribution sites across Lee County, Florida. The satellite-enabled solution with dedicated service level commitments delivered fiber-like communications to first responders and disaster response teams—filling connectivity gaps with dedicated capacity and enabling large datasets such as mapping data to be uploaded to the cloud, supporting real-time decision making and analysis for relief and response efforts.

Deployed teams conducted site assessments and provided emergency connectivity across nearly 100 locations, including:

  • First responder operations in Lee County, Florida
  • Florida state agencies like the Florida Department of Children and Families; Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; and the Florida Department of Financial Services
  • Local organizations like the Family Initiative in Cape Coral, Florida; Community Cooperative in Lee County, Florida; and Abuse Counseling & Treatment (ACT) Center in Fort Myers, Florida
  • Distribution centers, such as the Fuel Relief Fund, a fuel distribution site providing emergency fuel for first responders and evacuees across Lee County, Florida

ITDRC deployed dozens of volunteers virtually and on-the-ground to provide technology support or interim connectivity to over 80 sites in the affected area, primarily operated by government and public safety organizations. At the request of ITDRC, AWS deployed personnel and resources as part of this effort to address unmet technology needs in south central Florida.

Conducting humanitarian mapping

Mapping efforts are critical to identifying the areas most severely impacted in the wake of storms like Hurricane Ian and supporting a clear understanding of the locations where aid is most needed. During the response to Hurricane Ian, Help.NGO identified impacted areas near Fort Myers that had outdated mapping data, which could potentially limit decision-making and appropriate response measures. To provide more accurate and recent data, AWS engaged volunteers across the company to contribute to public mapping efforts. Volunteers mapped the area on Humanitarian OpenStreetMap’s Tasking Manager, an AWS-hosted tool that allows the public to make changes with ease to OpenStreetMap (OSM) data. This open-source mapping data was then available for use by local, state, and federal actors to better understand the impact of the storm and concentrate response efforts appropriately.

Providing cloud computing services

AWS provided cloud computing services and computing power to support Help.NGO’s response efforts. To enhance situational awareness for Help.NGO incident command, AWS built a common operating picture hosted in the AWS Cloud. Complete with an enterprise-grade Team Awareness Kit (TAK) system to monitor deployed resources and volunteers, this incident response solution enabled agile decision-making so deployed teams could respond more efficiently to all organizations participating in the response efforts.

To enhance situational awareness for incident command and deployed teams, AWS also populated a Joint Operations Center portal. By combining resource location inputs from TAK with federated public data, the portal displayed a bird’s-eye view of the local and regional incident environment.

Increasing work capacity

The AWS Disaster Preparedness and Response team organized volunteers across AWS to support the disaster relief nonprofit Crisis Cleanup. Crisis Cleanup is an AWS-powered coordination website for relief agencies, and a hotline for impacted community members to place requests for basic disaster cleanup from willing volunteers in the area. Amazonian volunteers spent two weeks in the aftermath of the hurricane taking calls from impacted community members, extending reach to a greater number of people quickly.

AWS continues to support governments and organizations as they work to help communities prepare for, and respond to, disasters and humanitarian events. The AWS Disaster Preparedness and Response team and AWS volunteers, who serve as an extension of the core team, worked around-the-clock in the wake of Hurricane Ian to help communities get connected and begin recovery efforts as quickly as possible. AWS Disaster Preparedness and Response team continues to support a wide array of organizations in utilizing cloud technology to help aid in response to natural disasters and other events.

To learn more about how AWS helps respond to hurricanes and other global events, read our Hurricane Tech Series blog or check out the AWS Disaster Response page for more information.

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