AWS Summit was back in person last week in Washington, DC. The DC Summit has a strong public sector focus, and this was on display with an array of presenters, exhibitors, and Amazon employees representing different aspects of the industry. While Re:Invent was broad in scope, at this Summit we got to hear stories like how the US DHS implemented Amazon Connect in 11 days, or how cloud vendors like Appian are ready for IL5 hosting compliance on GovCloud.

One of the sub-themes across this event, however, was how agencies and NGOs are using the cloud for disaster and emergency response, and how Amazon themself champions these efforts.


The AWS Global Social Impact Team Sets the Vision

Kristi Rhoades, Operations Lead Program Manager for AWS Disaster Response, led a session describing how Amazon dedicates company resources to the crucial missions of real-time support in disaster environments. We learned about the AWS Global Social Impact Team, whose mission is to support communities who are active throughout the disaster cycle by improving access to AWS technologies and providing technical expertise and prototype development, with support from employee volunteers.

AWS Global Social Impact Team

Kristi relayed some of the key efforts that Amazon employees are encouraged to participate in:

  • Contribute as part of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (HOT) Team – create and update crowdsourced maps to include detailed waypoints and utilities, especially in low population or remote areas, to aid in disaster recovery
  • Support with cleanup on the ground immediately after disaster hits
  • Field hotline calls remotely with contact centers deployed on Amazon Connect
  • Disaster mapping to aid first responders in providing essential services


The AWS Disaster Response Jeep Gladiator as a Prototype for what’s possible

If you were roaming the halls of the Summit, you couldn’t miss the customized Jeep Gladiator that Amazon had on display. This vehicle, which was customized by Chaos Customs down the road in Winchester, VA, integrates AWS Snow Family edge devices, networking, communications, and internet of things (IoT) gear into a rolling collaboration lab that supports humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) use cases. It is a bold demonstration of packing technology into a small space for a purpose. The vehicle has already seen its fair share of actual field duty, however, recently supporting emergency responders in a search and rescue operation for the Mayfield, Kentucky Tornado in April of 2022.

AWS Amazon Web Services Conference

The vehicle is equipped with critical infrastructure such as:

  • Drones with thermal imaging and other sensors for emergency rescue
  • AWS “Snow Family” devices such as Snowball to serve as a local data center for processing drone and other data.
  • Modular battery arrays built with car batteries to allow for ease in transport/shipping.

Read more about the vehicle on the Amazon Blog.


Help.NGO – An Amazon Partner leading the charge

Ms. Rhoads also introduced us to Adam Marlatt, Director of Operations for Help.NGO. Adam is an ex-Marine, and has been recently on the ground in Poland – leading strategic diplomatic operations for safe transport of regional leaders in the Ukraine conflict. Help.NGO is an Amazon Partner as well as a UN Standby Partner and specializes in emergency response, preparedness, risk mitigation, and prevention, leveraging cutting-edge technological solutions and subject matter expertise to improve national and international disaster response mechanisms prior, during, and after emergencies.

Amazon Partner

Adam recounted stories from the field including the deployment of satellite uplinks and other federated communications to help individuals remain off the grid during sensitive movement operations. The use of technologies such as Amazon’s Wickr also aided in keeping conversations secure.


TATRC – Employing Telemedicine on the Front Lines

In another presentation, we got to hear from TATRC – the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center – on how they built a platform called NETCCN. NETCCN, or the National Emergency Tele-Critical Care Network, has the mission of using telemedicine to provide bedside intensive care regardless of Geographic location. The program was created to provide relief for victims as a COVID-19 response but has additional critical applications in both warzone and disaster situations.

National Emergency Tele-Critical Care Network

We heard about Operation Gunpowder – a military simulation that takes place off the grid – where medical triage and treatment needed to be conducted by physicians and medics who are away from the front lines. NETCCN was able to be deployed on a private network to allow for telemedicine to be practiced in these extreme circumstances.

The presenters gave a detailed breakdown of the program architecture during the session, which covered highlights such as:

  • Use of Wickr for secure and private (HIPAA-Compliant) chat and video conferencing, including bots for data processing and treatment workflows
  • Deployment on standalone roaming networks using 5G “cell-on-wheels” connected to Snowball hardware to act as an Evolved Packet Core
  • Use of Public Band and everyday devices such as iPhones to allow for the most flexible deployments to field users.


The Cloud, Disconnected

One of the common lessons from these sessions is that the “cloud” as we think about it doesn’t necessarily mean that services are accessed from a public wireless network. We’re seeing innovation with AWS technologies in cases where infrastructure may be wiped out from natural disasters, vulnerable individuals need to remain off the grid, or military personnel and emergency response teams may be in danger in remote areas. With the right selection of AWS products deployed with expertly-designed architecture and partner-supplied equipment, we can see how the power of cloud resources can still be impactful when disaster strikes.