Before Hurricane Katrina even hit land, a small group of Microsoft Consulting Services employees began building, on their own and without prompting from some marketing group, a Web application to help those affected tell loved ones they were still alive after the storm. This week, the American Red Cross honored the company for its brief departure from the competitive hustle and bustle.In the months that followed the hurricane, KatrinaSafe.org morphed into a tool used in conjunction with Hurricane Rita, a devastating 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, and, eventually, any natural disaster. The site, now known as Safe and Well
and running on the American Red Cross' Website, saw 340,000 people log in over its first year alone, according to Microsoft.
Eventually, KatrinaSafe.com would be just one of a number of IT-led efforts to help deal with the disaster. Soon after KatrinaSafe.com's ad hoc beginnings, American Red Cross CIO Steve Cooper sent out an all-hands alert to a group of about 20 technology companies, who all joined in a powwow to assess how they could help put the Gulf Coast back together again. "They really all pooled their resources together," says Cooper. "It was fascinating. All the competitiveness fell away." Cooper calls it a highlight of his career.
Cooperation isn't the hallmark of the world of big software. So, it's worth remembering how powerful cooperating companies can be.