Save the Children: How cloud helps in disaster zones

Charity's head of IT deploys cloud to mobilise quickly in humanitarian disasters

The cloud can greatly benefit charities trying to help people around the world in humanitarian disasters, according to Save the Children's head of IT.

For the charity's teams deployed in disaster zones, time is of the essence, and they need to do whatever it takes to save children's lives delivering life-saving food, water, healthcare, protection and education, said Gerry Waterfield, head of global IT services at Save the Children International, speaking at Cloud Expo Europe in London today.

Using different cloud services, the charity can mobilise quickly and securely without having to deploy preconfigured devices with its line-of-business suite of applications, Waterfield said. Being able to deploy this so quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

“The work we do is in very difficult locations, so we have to think about connectivity, it is one of the biggest issues we face before we use the cloud,” he said. "The other issue is having power; if there is no power, there is no connectivity, hence no internet."

The charity works in more than 120 countries around the word and helped 22 million children in 2016. Waterfield said that bandwidth is frequently at a premium and the charity is heavily reliant on costly satellite communications, so the use of lightweight web apps is important.

In order to get power, and thus connectivity, Save The Children has looked at using solar power because of the amount of sunlight available in a lot of areas where it works.

Wit so many refugees fleeing war over the Mediterranean Sea, having connectivity at sea means that the charity can access real-time weather data from the cloud as well as data on numbers making the dangerous journey across this stretch of water so that the charity is better able to be in the right place to offer assistance.

To that end, Waterfield said that the charity has used Office 365, as it can be rolled out everywhere to any device. It has also used a cloud-based HR system from Oracle. Waterfield said this has been helpful in emergency situations where volunteers have to be assembled quickly and onboarded as well as in helping select the right people for the right roles on the ground.

Save the Children has also used Kobo Toolbox, to allow workers in emergency situations create ad-hoc reports, and Facebook's Workplace as an enterprise social network to allow workers to exchange information more quickly about situations and projects.

Going forward, Waterfield said that he would like to see the charity be able to use more technology in the field as this would help more people in crisis situations.

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