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Most people who are familiar with Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform know
of it as a cloud platform for building, hosting, and scaling web applications. Since
it is a cloud-based platform it helps users save on physical resource costs, allows
greater flexibility for online work and collaboration and the ability to get
applications off the ground quickly. What few are aware of, however, is that
the Windows Azure platform also has the capability of serving communities that
have been affected by disasters.
Recently, the folks at Microsoft ,with help from public
sector and nonprofit partners including TechSoup, have been examining and
refining the use of an Azure-based disaster and emergency response portal. The
portal would allow emergency response teams, municipal actors, and other
community agencies to use mapping, social media, translation, and other tools
for online communications. Users would have the capability to pinpoint and
direct help to where it is most needed, broadcast important information,
collaborate with one another, and keep up with the latest developments following
a crisis situation.
Since the portal lives in the cloud there is no need to
worry that a central server that is storing and processing this information
would be or become inaccessible at a moment when time and information are of
the essence. Residing in the cloud also means that the portal would also be
able to handle large numbers of users looking for or contributing information.
The flexibility offered by the Azure platform lets users customize the tool to
suit the nature of their emergency and the immediate needs of the affected
Japan’s use of the Windows Azure emergency response portal following the
disasters that struck Japan in March 2011 provides the best test case for how
this tool can be used. Using the Windows Azure emergency response portal, Second
Harvest Japan was able to provide their supporters and partner agencies with
information regarding food donation and distribution needs.
approached its public sector and nonprofit partners following the disasters in
Japan to refine the tool, their decision to do so demonstrates their commitment
to making the Windows Azure emergency response portal a truly user-friendly and
highly effective cloud-based tool to help any and all communities as they endeavor
to respond and rebuild following disasters.