Pro Bono Profile: Responding to a Historic Disaster with the American Red Cross

By Jason Wurtz | February 15, 2018 | Nonprofit, Pro Bono, Volunteering

Pro Bono ProfilesIn late August 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped the largest amount of rainwater ever recorded in the continental United States, forcing the evacuation of nearly 780,000 Texans in the Houston area. The devastating storm shut down 24 hospitals, disrupted the drinking water of 61 communities, and rendered 781 roads impassable.

A Call to Action, Literally

On September 14th, Salesforce.org received a call from the American Red Cross, one of our most tech enabled customers. To help with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, the Red Cross had set up a special program to provide immediate cash assistance directly to hurricane survivors. Unfortunately, the webpage responsible for accepting program applications crashed, leaving thousands without the emergency aid they needed.

Pro bono volunteering helped Hurricane Harvey victims get aid from the American Red Cross.

Extraordinary demand for the program had generated a blistering 130,000 requests per second at peak usage. The Red Cross turned to Salesforce for help building a replacement solution capable of handling the high volume while meeting security requirements. We were asked to design, build and launch in just 7 days – any longer was unacceptable given the scale of the humanitarian crisis.

Did we accept the challenge? Of course! Within hours of the Red Cross’s call, more than 40 employees from Salesforce and Salesforce.org offered to help. Using Quip to collaborate remotely, pro bono architects from three countries debated the pros and cons of three potential directions, and chose Heroku as the best option for handling the projected volume and security requirements.

Hurricane Harvey victims got aid from the American Red Cross, thanks in part to pro bono efforts from Salesforce for nonprofits.

The Ohana Rapid Response Team

Within 24 hours, the core team of volunteers came together under the leadership of Zachary Kampel, Director, Platform Practice. Volunteers worked through the weekend and long nights to build and test the solution, discussing and addressing countless technical challenges along the way.

Salesforce pro bono volunteers helped build a solution on Heroku to support aid to hurricane victims.

“I don’t believe any of us had ever had the opportunity to directly and positively impact the lives of so many people, much less in the span of a week,” Zachary explained. “We were excited to prove that the Salesforce Platform provides all the tools needed to build and deploy a highly scalable, fully integrated, entirely secure application for emergency response.”

The team wrapped up a few hours before launch, with the data ingestion system testing at 50,000 records per second with no errors and less than a 3 second average response time. All told, the core pro bono team logged more than 300 hours on the project – for free.

Pushing the Boundaries of What’s Possible

The solution launched at 9:00 am on Thursday, September 21st. Salesforce volunteers remained online during launch to monitor the system for any issues. Within the first hour, the Salesforce-built solution processed 275,000 applications from Texans in dire need of aid. “The platform that Salesforce developed worked flawlessly and was never stressed, even during peak load times,” remarked Gail J. McGovern, the Red Cross’s President and CEO. “We are so very fortunate to consider Salesforce among our most valued corporate partners.”

Infographic on financial assistance for households affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The Red Cross was able to get $225 million in immediate financial assistance to more than 573,000 households facing severe hardship in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. “This was a remarkable accomplishment for our humanitarian organization,” said Gail. “It would not have been possible without the tremendous skill and commitment displayed by so many Salesforce team members.”


Could you use a little help from a Salesforce expert? Our employees have the skills you need! For well-defined projects, we can match you with a volunteer to provide pro bono assistance. Apply for pro bono support.