Industry Trends

Securing Communities Through Disaster Relief Volunteering

By Roger Rustad | July 15, 2020

FortinetLife Perspectives

During the hurricane season of 2017, some Fortinet colleagues and I donated a pallet of FortiGate Next-Generation Firewalls to ITDRC (Information Technology Disaster Resource Center), a nonprofit which provides IT and connectivity solutions for free to communities affected by disasters. With a broad base of volunteers from various tech companies, available warehouse space, and free vouchers donated by Southwest Airlines, ITDRC began using Fortinet’s FortiGate Next-Generation Firewalls to secure communications in disaster-affected areas. This marked the beginning of volunteering my time and resources toward disaster relief response efforts and Fortinet’s partnership with ITDRC.

Volunteering and Donations in Response to Disasters

Over the next several years, Fortinet’s firewalls served a crucial role in helping give a sense of normalcy to communities affected by hurricanes, fire, floods, and tornados. In response to Hurricane Maria in 2017 which significantly affected Puerto Rico, ITDRC volunteers from Fortinet and Fortinet customers traveled to Puerto Rico with FortiGates to help. They installed them in clinics, community centers, and the convention center. Donated satellites by Dish were QoS'd by FortiGates combined with FortiGuard Security Services to give children and the local community secure Internet access.

Fortinet employees and partners who volunteered in installing FortiGates in some austere conditions soon started to self-identify as FortiDRT – short for “Fortinet Disaster Response Team.” Through our continued volunteer work with ITDRC and donations, Fortinet also powered Internet kiosks at Red Cross shelters and wildfire survivor sites in Northern California. For example, Fortinet ensured that parents could securely process insurance paperwork, check in with loved ones, and even provide some entertainment and education for their children. This work was especially rewarding as two Fortinet customers were among those who experienced the loss of their family homes due to California wildfires.

Over time, Fortinet expanded its partnership with ITDRC and collaboration with other organizations involved with the NGO. Tierpoint, a managed provider of Fortinet solutions, donated colocation and private cloud for Fortinet backend infrastructure, as well as the ability to cache networking hardware ahead of upcoming disasters. Amazon Web Services provided cloud credits and an Amazon Snowball to ITDRCTesla's disaster response group began rolling out solar arrays to help power Fortinet sites that were off the grid. Fortinet joined the ITDRC Tech Task Force, which also includes Google.orgBeldenRuckus NetworksDish Cares, and many other tech companies devoted to using technology to respond to disasters. 

Securely Connecting the Community During a Pandemic

More recently, Fortinet employees and partners responded to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that school children around the U.S. could safely learn at home and maintain safe distances from others. Fortinet employees began a laptop drive and configured donated FortiGates for tribal nations and rural communities that needed connectivity. Fortinet volunteers began repurposing computer hardware into Chromebooks using Neverware, a Google-based operating system.

Through Fortinet’s Corporate Foundation and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, additional Fortinet technology has been donated to ITDRC’s projectConnect. Since projectConnect has started, ITDRC has created more than 300 hotspots for school children, mostly in rural and tribal communities inside the United States a Fortinet’s donations is helping make all these connections secure. ITDRC's projectConnect partners with libraries, schools, and community centers to provide free outdoor WiFi access. This connectivity helps those affected by the pandemic by providing access to distance learning curricula and employment resources in open areas that facilitate social distancing. For governments, medical facilities and telehealth, ITDRC's projectConnect provides network, voice, video, and wireless infrastructure, compute devices including notebooks and tablets. Fortinet employees, partners, and customers who would like to contribute to projectConnect can join ITDRC by signing up online

The Rewards of Volunteering

For those of us in ITDRC, it has been a joy to use Fortinet’s solutions to tackle a wide array of field challenges, such as configuring Secure SD-WAN for firefighters or converting library patios to safe WiFi hotspots for children. This commitment to constant innovation and lifelong learning is what initially drew me and many others to work at Fortinet and 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.

Find out how you can contribute to projectConnect by signing up online today at ITDRC

Read more on Fortinet’s Corporate Foundation and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives and how Fortinet has donated technology to ITDRC’s projectConnect