May, 2013

  • 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.

  • Have an Idea to Improve Your Community, Campus, or the World? Enter YouthSpark Challenge for Change!

    By Lori Harnick, General Manager, Corporate Citizenship and Public Affairs

    When it comes to social change, launching entrepreneurial ventures, and coming up with the next generation of big ideas, we know that nothing matches the creativity and passion of youth. That’s the driving force behind Microsoft YouthSpark, our company-wide commitment to create education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for 300 million young people over three years.

    Today we’re launching YouthSpark Challenge for Change, a contest for U.S. residents aged 18 to 25 who have an idea for sparking change in their communities or around the world for the chance to win* amazing prizes, including a volunteer trip to Kenya this summer and the latest Microsoft products. Entering the contest is easy. Simply answer a few questions about your social good project and how Windows and Office could help bring it to life.

    Microsoft wants to help young people change the world, and because we believe all good deeds should be rewarded, everyone who enters the contest will win!

    • Everyone who enters between now and May 24 will receive a $25 gift card for Give for Youth, our micro-giving portal designed to help you fund and follow social good projects for young people around the world.
    • 20 Finalists will receive a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT and Office Home and Student 2013 to help create their winning video entry.
    • Five Grand Prize Winners will receive:
      • A life-changing, all-expenses paid volunteer trip to Kenya in August 2013
      • $2,500 cash to help kick-start their ideas
      • A Microsoft technology bundle including a Windows Phone 8 and Xbox 360 with Kinect
      • The opportunity to serve as a YouthSpark ambassador for the year and take advantage of YouthSpark training and resources

    If you’re wondering how to incorporate Windows and Office into your entry, click over to the Windows blog and Office.com for tips and tricks. And if you’re looking for inspiration for your own change-sparking project, watch Rebecca and Christina share stories about their projects, Plus Ultra and the Do Good Bus.

    Enter the challenge now.

    After all of the contest entries have been received, our judges will narrow the entries to 20 finalists, who will be revealed on June 17. Then the public will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite project once a day until June 24. We’ll announce our five grand prize winners on July 1, which will mark the end of the contest but the beginning of another journey. We’re excited to bring you the stories of our five winners and future YouthSpark Stars as they volunteer in Kenya this summer and launch their social good projects in the following months. And who knows… maybe one of them will be you.

    *No purchase necessary. Entry deadline May 24, 2013. See website for full Official Rules.

  • 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.

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    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.

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    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.
  • 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):

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    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.

    fema2

    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 Ready.gov/hurricanes.

    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.
  • To Compete in the Global Economy, Companies Must Recognize Talent

    By Gerald Chertavian, CEO of Year Up

    Jessica Vides had a common story. A few years ago, she dropped out of high school – not because of laziness or lack of ambition, but because her family was going through a crisis and, though still a teenager herself, she needed to help take care of her sister’s children. In time, she was an unemployed high school dropout, with few career prospects and responsibilities that hadn’t gone away.

    That’s when Jessica’s story changed direction. She enrolled in and completed a GED program, and a counselor there encouraged her to apply to Year Up Puget Sound. She spent her first weeks with us learning how to use Microsoft Office, before acquiring a comprehensive background in IT, while also gaining competencies in how to dress for, communicate in, and navigate through a corporate environment. After six months of intensive training, she embarked on a six month internship with DreamBox Learning, where her intelligence and motivation were on full display. Following her internship, she was hired as a Client Care Specialist. She’s still there today, actively contributing to DreamBox’s bottom line and its mission to close the Achievement Gap in America’s schools.

    The 21st century workforce has arrived, and contrary to public perception, the most talented workers often have stories like Jessica’s. Most young Americans are trying to navigate school and work while shouldering responsibilities at home, but are faced with the worst employment prospects on record for young adults and shockingly low community college completion rates. They’re smart, motivated, and perseverant; all they need is an opportunity to learn marketable skills and then prove themselves in the workplace. Most employers and policymakers, though, don’t know just how much they’re capable of achieving.

    That’s what today’s Walk for Opportunity is all about. In eight of Year Up’s cities, 2,000 students, staff and supporters are walking, rallying, advocating – and in Puget Sound, flash mobbing – to call the public’s attention to the talent that lives in our urban neighborhoods. Our alumni are continually proving that they are EPIC: Empowered, Professional, In-demand by employers, and Career-ready. 84% of Year Up’s alumni are employed or in college full-time within four months of graduation, and those who are working earn an average of $15/hour (about $30,000/year for salaried employees). Those students on the street today are not looking for pity or charity. Quite literally, they’re looking for Opportunity, not only for themselves but for the 6.7 million young adults in this country who are out of school and out of work.

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    Year Up’s Seattle chapter turned their Walk for Opportunity into a flash mob at Westlake Plaza in downtown Seattle.

    The Opportunity Divide that traps so many young people in poverty isn’t just hurting them. As a society, we are losing out on the collective talent of millions of people, and are paying a heavy price. Over the course of their lifetime, this cohort will cost taxpayers $1.15 trillion through expenditures and lost revenue, if we fail to reconnect them to career pathways.

    Companies, too, are especially suffering from the Opportunity Divide. There were 3.9 million job openings that employers were unable to fill last month, a large proportion of which are middle-skills jobs, and they’re facing a structural shortage of millions of middle-skilled workers over the next decade. This inability to fill job openings in a time of high unemployment bodes ill for our ability to compete globally – both for companies and our economy as a whole – in the years to come.

    Many of America’s leading employers are shifting their practices, and widening their lens beyond “traditional” sources of talent, to meet the challenge. In fact, more than 250 companies – firms like Microsoft, LinkedIn, and JP Morgan Chase – invest in Year Up’s students. For most of our corporate partners, this is not philanthropy; it’s a business partnership they use to meet very real needs by gaining immediate access to a steady pipeline of dedicated, skilled employees (with low turnover) for hard-to-fill jobs, as well as to increase diversity and meet a commitment to serving the community.

    It’s also a long-term investment, fueled by the recognition that the next generation of skilled talent often has a story like Jessica’s – the same shift in perception that our students are rallying for today. They understand that if companies want access to the employees that will fuel our economic growth in the decades to come, they need to invest in young people and the programs that prepare them to contribute. If they want to thrive, they need to recognize talent.

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