May, 2013

  • Lessons From a Social Media Lead: Using Tech to Prep

    Microsoft has a long history of working with leading humanitarian response organizations dedicated to disaster preparedness and recovery.  This week we are proud to team up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help raise awareness of resources, tools, and tips that can help you stay safe during a natural disaster.  In this blog post, hear from Jason Lindesmith of FEMA about “using tech to prep” and his great insights on getting prepared in advance of a disaster.

    By: Jason Lindesmith, Social Media Lead, Public Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency

    Technology is a lifeline for millions of people. Technology, especially the internet, lets people stay in touch with family and friends who can be a block or half a world away.  It allows people to learn instantly, by typing the topic in question into their favorite search site.  After emergencies or large disasters, scenes like this are commonplace (this is from a church in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy last year):


    I've ridden out a few sticky situations in the D.C. area that taught me how to use technology as a resource during disasters, and maybe more importantly, how to keep my devices juiced up and usable.  So if you use the internet regularly, have a smartphone, or are curious about what to expect if a hurricane or severe storm should impact you, I hope these are helpful:

    · Hurricane Irene: access to information is key - Aside from being in Florida for Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Hurricane Irene was the first storm I had seen up close. I found myself glued to news websites and broadcasts offering details about the latest conditions since I had friends and family in the impacted areas.  I found out firsthand that along with food, shelter, and water, access to information is a basic need that technology can help fulfill during and after emergencies.
    Seeing the impact of Irene made me ask: "If an emergency was unfolding in my town or city, how would you get continual updates?"  Here’s what I ended up relying on more than anything during and after Irene:

    • Social media - I know, not surprising coming from someone who works in social media.  But if you're a regular social media user, it's worth seeing how you could use those sites to get updates from your town, city, school district, local elected officials, local media, department of transportation, or other potential sources of good emergency info. After Irene, I was constantly checking the many social media sites of New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. to make sure I had the latest updates in those cities.
    • Neighbors - Yes, I'm talking about good, old fashioned face-to-face conversations here.  Just after Irene came up the East Coast and brushed by D.C., it was all people were talking about. "How'd you do with the storm?" "Did anyone's house on the street have damage? Have you heard anything about the grocery store up the street?"  So take the opportunity now - before a storm hits - to get to know your neighbors and who may be in a position to have local information after a disaster.

    · Derecho: how to stay powered up - This example isn't from a hurricane, but the lesson definitely applies to how hurricanes and tropical storms impact communities.  How dependent are you on electricity?  If your power went out for five days, what would you do?  I found out how dependent on electricity I was when I lost power for three days after a prolonged severe storm (called a derecho for you weather-types) came through the DC area last summer.


    This is when I learned how cool a weather radio can be. A few things about it – it has small solar panels on top, a hand crank, and multiple ports for plugging in devices to get a quick charge.  It's like having a pocket knife with 30 different accessories, except that a weather radio is specifically designed for emergency situations.  I can crank the radio for 1-2 minutes and charge my phone for 20-30 minutes, it's that simple.  Since my power was out for three days, I ended up keeping the radio near a sunny window so the solar panels could do their work to charge up my phone.

    A weather radio is one great option to give your phone some extra juice - I'd also recommend having at least one spare battery for your cell phone, or getting one of the built-in battery/case combos that are out there now.  That will definitely come in handy if your power goes out for a few days, like mine did.

    · Hurricane Sandy: useful emergency apps – Finally, Hurricane Sandy taught me how there are lots of great apps out there to make your phone its own source of emergency information. 
    The great thing about downloading these apps is that you can still access the safety information even if the cell networks are unavailable.  That means as long as your cell phone has power (thanks to your snazzy weather radio), you’ll be able to see how the experts tell you how to stay safe in any almost any situation.
    Here are a few of the apps I regularly consulted during the storm (and encouraged my friends to download as well):

    • The Red Cross Hurricane app – an easy-to-use interface, lots of safety tips, a map of open shelters, and a quiz to test your hurricane know-how.
    • The FEMA app – the interface is easy to navigate and has a large section with resources for those impacted by disasters. There are also maps of open FEMA disaster recovery centers and open shelters, as well as tips for how to donate and volunteer responsibly.
    • Microsoft HelpBridge – it integrates with your Facebook contacts so you can easily set your “emergency contacts”.  You can then quickly send a message to this group after a disaster saying you are OK or that you need help – with the option to post the message on your social media channels as well.

    I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned in dealing with severe weather in the D.C. area will inspire you to get prepared for the upcoming hurricane season.  Simple things like finding the right apps to download and making sure you have a backup power supply for your phone can go a long way.  For more tips on getting prepared – like what to do with your home, yard, storing important documents, and your family’s emergency plan, check out

    fema3 Jason Lindesmith manages the day-to-day digital engagement at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  He oversees several areas of the agency’s online communication efforts, including the agency’s blog, social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), and coordinates social media efforts during and after disasters.
  • More than 200 High School Students Get a Taste of Computer Science in the Real World

    By Dan Kasun, Sr. Director of US Public Sector

    Last Friday, I joined tech industry colleagues and more than 200 students from seven local high schools to kick off the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) Computer Science Field Trip at AOL’s Northern Virginia campus. It was a great day, consisting of several sessions where industry experts shared their computer science experiences and expertise. Following hands on sessions, students participated in an opportunity fair that helped them to see the real-world opportunities that exist in computer science.


    Over 200 students came from seven local highschools to learn about computer science careers.

    TEALS is a Microsoft YouthSpark program that places volunteer technology professionals in schools with two goals: to teach computer science in schools that don’t have an existing program and to inspire students to pursue further computer science education and ultimately, careers in technology. The volunteers work with high school teachers to assist with curriculum and lesson delivery, and bring computer science to life with real world examples.

    TEALS started in Washington State in 2009 at one school. There are now TEALS programs running in 7 states covering 35 schools, reaching more than 1,500 students. This year, we launched TEALS in the greater Washington DC area at six schools, including: Marshall and Friendship Charter Schools in DC, and Wakefield, Broad Run, Stone Bridge and Park View High Schools in Northern Virginia.

    I’m one of the program volunteers at Stone Bridge High School. The reason I volunteered is simple: I work with many technology companies in my role at Microsoft, and I see firsthand the challenges that the tech industry has in finding and hiring qualified, talented employees. This creates a drag on economic growth – from the largest companies to startups just looking to get off the ground.


    Microsoft’s Dan Kasun speaking to aspiring computer scientists at the TEALS field trip.

    Computer science and computer engineer graduates consistently top national employment lists in terms of job placement and starting salaries. Despite this, the number of students pursuing degrees in computer science is still extremely small compared to other disciplines, and falls far short of industry needs. At current rates, between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. economy will produce more than 120,000 additional computing jobs annually that will require at least a computer science degree, but the country’s higher education system is currently producing only 40,000 bachelor’s degrees in computer science annually. In 2010, only 19,390 students in the United States out of 14 million took the Computer Science Advanced Placement (AP) test. This represents only 0.6 percent of all AP tests taken that year.

    With so much demand and opportunity, one would think that all high schools would teach computer science and students would be stampeding into the discipline. Right now, that’s not happening, and it’s our responsibility to change it.

    I’m passionate about the potential to expand access to computer science classes in the greater DC region, as we have the perfect storm of very strong schools, amazing teachers, smart students and technology companies of all sizes. In addition, several of the nation’s best universities – as well as the nation’s political center -- are located in our backyard. All of the ingredients to continue to foster tech innovation and spur economic growth are here, but it all starts with giving students the education they need to succeed.

    Click here to learn more about the TEALS program or to volunteer in your community.

    DanKasunHeadshot2.jpg Dan Kasun is the Senior Director of Developer and Platform Evangelism for U.S. Public Sector at Microsoft.  He, and his teams, are responsible for evangelizing how new technologies can be applied in the government, healthcare, and education industries.  In addition, Dan's organization works with schools, faculty, and students to build enthusiasm and competency for Computer Science education and technical career development.
  • Helping You Prepare for a Natural Disaster

    By: Molly Bull, Senior Communications Manager, Microsoft Disaster Response

    The devastating tornados that recently tore through communities in Texas and Oklahoma reinforce the importance of both preparedness and aiding in relief efforts during times of natural disaster. Today also marks the start of Hurricane Preparedness Week in the U.S., as hurricane seasons starts the first of June. The NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicts 13 to 20 named storms total, between seven and 11 of which will be hurricanes, and three to six of which will become major hurricanes for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. The potential for damage is high, and the need for preparation is even more important.

    So how should you respond? Planning ahead is critical, and technology can play a role in helping people and communities prepare for, and respond to, natural disasters. Following is some helpful guidance about the technology tools available from Microsoft along with how the company is supporting relief organizations that can help communities and responders effectively plan, prepare and provide support during a natural disaster.

    Staying Connected

    · Social media and texting is a quick and effective way to communicate to friends and family during times of natural disaster. Today, one in five Americans have used an emergency mobile app in times of a natural disaster.

    Over the past several years, apps have been created to support a specific disaster or needs of a specific organization. This past January, Microsoft launched HelpBridge, an app designed to help people connect with one another, and with giving and donation opportunities, during any type of disaster. HelpBridge is a free cross-platform mobile application (Windows, Android, iOS) that provides you with the ability to send out status updates to pre-selected contact groups via email, SMS, and Facebook. Through your phone’s GPS capabilities you can also choose whether to share your location in your alerts.

    · Accessing the latest information about what is happening on the ground is critical to staying informed, both for responders and the general public. Through the ReadyReach Preparedness Portal you can access the latest information regarding a disaster (maps, areas of concern, how to provide aid) as well as support nonprofit relief agencies. The site helps to make communities more resilient in disaster prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.

    · During a natural disaster, communication networks can be overwhelmed and access to a computer can be difficult. In times of disaster, Skype can help you stay connected via the internet or a mobile device, providing another way to connect when networks get overloaded.

    Safeguarding Your Information

    · Developing a family emergency plan and keeping it in a safe, secure place is an important part of preparedness. This Microsoft Excel template walks you through the process of creating a comprehensive plan. This plan can be accessed during a disaster by saving it to a cloud drive, like SkyDrive, so you can get to your plan on any computer or smartphone – and even when Internet connectivity fails.

    · Create a backup for all your most important documents. You can scan documents – insurance information, birth certificate, passport, medical records and other essential documents – and organize them in a digital notebook, like OneNote, so they can be quickly searched to find information you need. Store this notebook in the cloud so it’s available from anywhere in the event that you lose your devices.

    · Quick and reliable access to your health and medical information is important to ensure the appropriate medical aid during a natural disaster. HealthVault helps you gather, store, use, and share important health information for you and your family by creating an emergency profile. Here you can manage and track your family’s medical contacts, allergies, medication, immunizations, and health conditions. Through the site your medical providers can securely log in and see a full picture of your history and medical needs.

    Working Together to Help Those Before and After a Disaster Occurs

    Microsoft is committed to partnering with humanitarian relief and disaster response organizations to keep communities safe, informed, and connected before, during and following natural disasters.

    · Esri provides thousands of organizations with software designed to help during disaster response management. The software and mapping technology provides first responders and people on the ground with immediate information regarding natural disaster zones, thus allowing citizens and organizations to make informed decisions quickly.

    · Aidmatrix provides relief organizations with the ability to broadcast stories and highlight needs during times of disaster through their Local Impact Map and NeedsFeed tools. The NeedsFeed shows communities where the most help is needed and how they can assist those who have been impacted.

    · Having a response plan is critical in mitigating the outcome of a natural disaster. The American Red Cross provides extensive preparation guidance and real time status information for various types of natural disasters, including hurricanes. The American Red Cross’s Tornado App provides up to date information about tornadoes, what to do immediately afterwards, and location-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) alerts, allowing citizens to stay informed with the most up to date status information.

    · FEMA has several resources and tools to help prepare for a natural disaster including the ability to get access to real-time hurricane preparedness information through their text-enabled alert system by texting “hurricane” to 43362.

    · Skype has partnered with the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) to create a low-bandwidth Skype client that helps relief workers connect with their families when stationed overseas in hardship locations like Darfur or Pakistan. Luxembourg has employed a similar approach for the disaster relief teams that it deploys to major disasters. The teams are armed with an inflatable satellite that, when paired with Skype, can provide Wi-Fi, instant messaging voice and video chat to aid workers on location during natural disasters.

    Visit Microsoft Disaster Response site to learn more about the Microsoft Disaster Response program.

  • Congrats to Microsoft Partners Ignify, RBA and Dell for Outstanding Achievements in Citizenship

    By Lori Harnick, General Manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    Microsoft has an enduring commitment to working to fulfill our public responsibilities and to serving the needs of people in communities worldwide. Fundamental to this commitment is the role we serve as a responsible corporate citizen.

    As our company has grown, this commitment has extended far beyond our own products and services and has been amplified many times over through our network of partners who help us make a real impact for a better tomorrow.

    Today Microsoft announced its 2013 Partner of the Year Awards. Chosen from 3,000 nominations from more than 100 countries, award winners and finalists will be recognized at the 2013 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, the company’s premier annual event for industry partners, July 7–11 in Houston, Texas.

    This year we want to call special attention to the Partner of the Year winners and finalists in the three Citizenship categories: Humanitarian Response, Innovative Technology for Good, and YouthSpark. Congratulations and thank you!

    Humanitarian Response

    • Winner: Ignify, for the innovative work it has done for World Vision on its global supply chain initiative, which has enabled the nonprofit to better deliver its critical relief services in calamity stricken areas around the globe. Using Microsoft Dynamics AX, Ignify helped World Vision to more effectively and efficiently distribute donated goods through its supply chain, ensuring that supplies reached disaster stricken areas in a timely manner. The implementation has changed the lives of thousands of children throughout Senegal and Mongolia by providing them water, food, mosquito repellants, books and emergency supplies. Overall, the program has positively reached more than 250,000 people around the globe. Looking forward, this impact will only multiply as World Vision’s global supply chain program is rolled out in 17 more countries in Africa.
    • Finalist: Systemgroup Consulting, Inc.

    Innovative Technology for Good

    • Winner: RBA, for its inspiring work with Opportunity Partners supporting the nonprofit’s efforts to provide training, support, and paid work to teenagers and young adults with developmental disabilities. Specifically, RBA developed an innovative technology solution using Kinect, Office 365 and Sharepoint that enabled Opportunity Partners to bring the benefits of their services to more disabled people with greater impact. For example, Opportunity Partners implemented a Kinect-based learning solution that allowed people with autism to gain new job skills without a heavy reliance on job coaches. This cutting-edge solution enables people with autism get effective training to find employment and live more independently, and Opportunity Partners is able to reach more people through its staff. Through its work with Opportunity Partners, RBA has provided a pioneering path to better serving those with disabilities so they can lead more fulfilling lives.
    • Finalist: Winvision

    YouthSpark Citizenship

    • Winner: Dell, for its extensive work to spark greater opportunity to young people around the world to help them imagine and realize their full potential. Specifically, Dell’s Youth Learning initiatives have brought critical skills to enable school-aged children around the world learn and achieve life goals despite their lack of access to the proper facilities, teachers and technology. Dell has expanded the program across 15 countries including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, the UK and the US, and has reached over three million children across more than 1,000 communities in the process. Dell has demonstrated impact at a huge scale and an unwavering commitment to creating a better world for young people.
    • Finalist: CHH Enterprises, Inc. (d/b/a New Signature)

    “The 2013 Partner of the Year Award winners and finalists represent some of the best and brightest our ecosystem has to offer,” says Jon Roskill, corporate vice president, Worldwide Partner Group, Microsoft. “That’s definitely worth celebrating.” Please join us in celebrating and applauding these winners for their exceptional work.

  • Helping More High School Students Take Computer Science

    Microsoft is very proud of our TEALS partnership with Seattle Public Schools and Rainier Beach High School. We commend the leadership, vision and courage of these educators to recognize the opportunities that computer science education opens up for young people. Preparing young people for life is perhaps the most important job one can do. Thanks to principals like Dwane Chappelle of Rainier Beach High School for doing whatever it takes. In this blog post, a high school student talks about why he’s excited about taking computer science classes through TEALS.

    By Bishal Acharya

    There are just three students in my Advanced Placement Computer Science class at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School (RBHS). Three people out of a school of more than 400. Three people out of a senior class of about 100. In today’s high-tech, computer-driven world, that would be sad and depressing news anywhere.

    In Seattle, where tens of thousands of people work in software, electronic commerce and other high-tech jobs, it’s just crazy. At RBHS, where three Microsoft software engineers help teach through the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, it’s especially crazy.

    Fortunately, the Washington state legislature passed a new law in Olympia that will help change that by counting advanced placement computer science as math or science credit. It may be hard to believe that what is likely the most difficult class offered at my school doesn’t currently count as a math or science credit.

    But today that will change when Gov. Jay Inslee signs House Bill 1472 into law. This is a big step in the right direction.


    WA state Governor Jay Inslee signing into law the recognition of AP computer science class as credit towards graduation requirements in math and science.

    Most of my fellow students at RBHS come from low-income backgrounds and families of color. Like me, many are recent immigrants to this country. The dropout rate here is high, and too few of my schoolmates go on to college. Many do not even understand that companies like Microsoft and Amazon are just a few miles away from our neighborhood. One of my computer science classmates left the class to flip burgers.

    Computer science is a way out of that fate, a proven path to a better life.

    And yet almost nobody takes it.

    Students following a traditional path to college take algebra, geometry, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics. Not computer science.

    Even the easier introductory computer science course here at RBHS, while popular, doesn’t get the interest it should even though students in that class get to write cool apps and games for mobile phones. Many schools around Washington don’t even offer computer science.

    Again, that seems crazy. Why wouldn’t we want more people taking computer science when our economy needs so many computer scientists and so many people need jobs? A recent report found that there are 25,000 unfilled jobs in Washington because the state’s residents don’t have the right skills. That number could grow to 50,000 by 2017.

    That’s why I’m so glad the Legislature has taken action to count AP Computer Science as either math or science credit. Personally, I think the introductory course should count as well. But I understand that lawmakers were concerned that might interfere with students taking Algebra 2, which teaches important skills used in everyday life.

    Allowing AP Computer Science to show up on my high school transcript as a math or science credit costs the state nothing and will start many students on a great career path. It’s no surprise that such a simple, straightforward idea is supported by 77 percent of Washington voters according to a recent poll by Washington STEM.

    The technology companies that are part of Washington STEM want to hire people like me – local kids from Washington, educated in our schools. I want to work for one of those companies some day, or perhaps start my own company.  I understand the opportunities that await me – especially in my backyard. If more students took computer science, they would understand these opportunities as well. Now, hopefully more will be encouraged to enroll in these classes.   

    image Bishal Acharya is a senior at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle.
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