Industry Trends

Applying Technical Cybersecurity Skillsets to Help the Community

By Fortinet | August 25, 2022

Fortinet focuses on protecting customers and partners from cyberattacks through our industry-leading technology and training and certification programs. Solving problems is something that we look to do every day, and some Fortinet employees have taken this same mindset more broadly into the real world by using their cyber skillsets for social good.

A group of Fortinet employees have been longtime volunteers with ITDRC (Information Technology Disaster Resource Center), a nonprofit that provides IT and connectivity solutions for free to communities affected by disasters. We caught up with them on recent ways these Fortinet volunteers have provided their cybersecurity knowledge to help communities in need.

Connecting Communities in Crisis

In the past two years, Roger Rustad and Bryan Watson have helped whenever they are called to assist communities in need due to the damage caused by natural disasters. Roger says, “We arrive on the scene after a fire or flood and try to fill in the holes for survivors and relief workers.”

Roger goes on to say he likes using Fortinet solutions to tackle a wide array of field challenges, such as configuring Secure SD-WAN for firefighters or converting outdoor locations into safe Wi-Fi hotspots for local residents, especially children. “The culture of constant innovation and lifelong learning is what initially drew me and many others to work at Fortinet. It’s very rewarding to be able to continuously empower, protect, and positively impact our communities through my work at Fortinet and with the ITDRC.”

5 Years of Working with ITDRC

According to Bryan, since Hurricane Maria, Fortinet has worked closely with ITDRC to assist many communities that have been demolished by hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and tornados. He said, “In addition to donating equipment to ensure connectivity, a team of Fortinet volunteers have dedicated our time, energy, and expertise to helping in any way we can.”

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, ITDRC began an initiative to equip students and families in rural and underserved communities with free Wi-Fi hotspots. Bryan has fond memories of how he and other Fortinet volunteers assisted the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. “They needed to set up a distance learning program for their school children. So we helped by creating hotspots to address the connectivity issue and also set up FortiCloud to ensure that these connections could be easily and securely managed.”

“The culture of constant innovation and lifelong learning is what initially drew me and many others to work at Fortinet. It’s very rewarding to be able to continuously empower, protect, and positively impact our communities through my work at Fortinet and with the ITDRC.”

The Dixie Fire Anniversary

A year ago, in early August 2021, the Dixie Fire devastated a number of small communities in Northern California, including historic Gold Rush town Greenville (pre-fire population 800+). 75% of Greenville's buildings were destroyed by the Dixie Fire. As you would expect, the past 12 months have been extremely difficult for the residents who returned to their burnt-to-the-ground communities.

One noteworthy project that Fortinet employees have been working on with the Dixie Fire Collaborate and ITDRC is providing internet access for Greenville small businesses that have set up shop in tents near the rubble of burned-out buildings. Access to the internet is provided via one of ITDRC’s disaster relief trailers that is solar powered and provides free Wi-Fi to that everyone in that vicinity.

“By helping set up internet access for small businesses displaced by the fire, we have enabled them to generate a source of income while the town tries to rebuild,” said Roger.

Another project that our volunteering employees assisted on during the actual fire last year, was bringing in a fast P2P link to Susanville for CalFire staff that were battling the blaze. The secure Wi-Fi setup served 5000-7000 people.

During the actual fighting of the fire, Brian says, “I was embedded with CalFire. They were actually happy to see a Fortinet person because CalFire uses Fortinet for their VPN technologies.”

Unique Recruitment

One of the interesting developments that has come from Fortinet staff’s volunteering efforts is that it has become a unique way to recruit new Fortinet employees. Jim Stewart was working with another organization when he was volunteering to help the recovery of a Northern California wildfire and met some Fortinetters. After close contact and working together with these Fortinet people, Jim really liked their dedication and camaraderie. Soon he was persuaded to join Fortinet and now works as a project management engineer.

What Motivates Our Volunteers

When asked why he volunteers, Bryan responds, “During the Paradise Fire, where so many people were suffering and being evacuated, I asked myself, ‘What can I go do to help? How can I use my skills?’ And that's how I started getting involved with ITDRC and working with Roger on the back end and providing some supplies as needed. I felt like, ‘Okay I'm helping. I'm not just ignoring all these people who are suffering.’

Bryan continues, “Throw me into a disaster, a chaotic situation and that's where I thrive. That's why I do information security. It's managing incidents where you don't know what's coming next. So, when there's people suffering or being displaced, I like to go in and do something to help. I'm at the point in my life, where that’s what I like to do.

Find out more about how Fortinet's Training Advancement Agenda (TAA) and Training Institute programs—including the NSE Certification program, Academic Partner program, and Education Outreach program—are helping to solve the cyber skills gap and prepare the cybersecurity workforce of tomorrow.