Humanitarian Organization Goes to the Cloud for Disaster-Resilient Communications

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies announces an agreement with Microsoft to connect employees and volunteers in 187 countries.

by / February 25, 2013

The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and Red Crescent Societies selected cloud software to be the standard communications technology for connecting millions of employees and volunteers in 187 countries. Microsoft made the announcement Monday, Feb. 25, that the IFRC expanded on an enterprise agreement with a new memorandum of understanding to offer Microsoft Office 365 as the communications and collaboration platform for its National Societies.

Ed Happ, global CIO of the IFRC, said the organization is a loose federation, meaning its National Societies, which are the Red Crescent and Red Cross organizations in 187 countries, make their own decisions and have their own employees and volunteers. The agreement with Microsoft provides a global standard that those organizations have the option to join.

The IFRC assists disaster survivors through relief operations and also works to strengthen the capacities of its member National Societies.

Happ said the IFRC’s email-dominated culture makes it necessary to have a scalable, well managed system. “One of the things that’s fundamental to any disaster response is the earliest and initial communications that happen,” he told Emergency Management. “These are things like the initial assessments that are done, delivering that information back to central locations, procuring the goods and services needed to respond to that disaster, and getting them to a location and deploying them to those who need them.”

Additionally the cloud’s disaster resiliency made it a natural selection for the humanitarian response organization, Happ said. “We believe that the Microsoft Office 365 offering and the quality of their data centers and the resilience, disaster preparedness if you will, of their data centers is well beyond what any of the National Societies could ever afford to do.”

Bangladesh and Namibia, two of the estimated 80 early qualifying National Societies, have deployed Office 365, according to Microsoft.

Prior to making the cloud offering available, Happ said the dominant email package used by the IFRC and its societies has been Microsoft Exchange On-Premises. Moving to the cloud, while requiring each organization to understand the compliance rules and regulations in its country, “encourages each organization to update and redefine its security framework,” Happ said.

He added that the cloud helps eliminate what he thinks is the No. 1 security issue: disgruntled employees. “Disgruntled employees can’t walk into Microsoft’s data center,” Happ said. “So we believe that in that sense, we’re increasing our security.”

Elaine Pittman Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Emergency Management from 2008 to 2017.

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