AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

Disaster response: On the front lines of Hurricane Dorian

AWS DRT Volunteer on the ground in Abaco, Bahamas

AWS DRT Volunteer on the ground in Abaco, Bahamas

When Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, struck the Bahamas on September 1, 2019, first responders and aid organizations knew the damage would be significant. Dorian set the record for worst natural disaster to strike the Bahamas and became one of the two most powerful storms to make landfall from the Atlantic Ocean. Organizations standing ready to assist knew they needed innovative solutions to solve some of the more complex problems facing the island’s recovery. In the storm’s immediate aftermath, the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Disaster Response Program rapidly deployed to some of the hardest hit areas to help with the technology and resource needs of nonprofit and government customers.

NetHope, a consortium of leading global nonprofits used the AWS Disaster Response Team (DRT) members to help set up connectivity and communications networks at more than 40 medical facilities and shelters in Nassau and Abaco. “When Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, NetHope was fortunate to have the support of AWS as we hurried to respond,” said Brent Carbno, NetHope’s Managing Director of Global Programs. “NetHope is based on the combined efforts of nonprofit organizations collaborating with tech companies, so we are pleased by the support AWS has provided, joining with NetHope’s nearly 60 member NGOs to further our efforts in disaster preparedness and recovery work by providing expert staff in the field and financial support.”

With Information Disaster Technology Resource Center (ITDRC), AWS led coordination efforts on the ground in Nassau to provide free Wi-Fi at community-based locations in Grand Bahama and Abaco. “Once we understood the level of destruction and humanitarian needs in the Bahamas, AWS stepped up in a big way to support our efforts with funding and essential tech gear. We were very fortunate to have AWS Disaster Response Team members on our Advance Team, which laid the critical foundation for our field teams operating on Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands,” said Joe Hillis, Operations Director of ITDRC.

For Help.NGO, an international non-governmental organization specializing in disaster risk reduction and response, AWS provided two AWS Snowball Edge devices to help process aerial imagery of damaged areas which increased efficiency in assessing impact. An AWS DRT team member spent more than a week on the ground with Help.NGO running initial image processing tasks, and training staff on deploying the Snowball Edge. This enabled Help.NGO to rapidly streamline and distribute high-resolution images of the impact on the most affected islands. The Snowball Edge devices brought the AWS cloud to the edge for Help.NGO and its partners and made mission critical data available to humanitarian workers decision-makers.

AWS also enhanced organizations’ response capabilities and long-term response plans by donating funds. AWS contributed $50,000 to both NetHope and ITDRC to fund their recovery work in the Bahamas with respect to IT and connectivity for responding organizations, shelters and community-based entities.

Locally, AWS gave a $150,000 grant toward Hampton University’s initiative to support over 90 displaced Bahamian students with free tuition and room and board for a semester. “The $150,000 donation from Amazon Web Services to help the displaced students from the University of Bahamas-North campus acclimate to Hampton University was a tremendous show of philanthropy,” said Dr. William R. Harvey, President of Hampton University.

The AWS response to Hurricane Dorian was possible through the AWS Disaster Response Program, which launched last year. In its first year of the program, AWS responded to Hurricanes Florence and Michael, as well as the California wildfires. Since then, AWS has worked with customers to improve resiliency and readiness for hurricane season. This includes pre-positioning important equipment (like Snowball Edges) in potentially affected areas in advance of storms. We also deployed AWS volunteers to the southeastern United States before Dorian hit to help customers stage their response operations. This ensured we had the expertise and equipment in place before the disaster hit.

Learn more about AWS Disaster Response.