Applications do their part for Red Cross

On normal days, the American Red Cross in Greater New York responds to about two dozen emergencies. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, however, the organization has been in overdrive.

In a good month, the New York chapter of the Red Cross counts itself lucky if 100 to 200 volunteers come out to offer their assistance. But after the strikes on the World Trade Center, it received thousands of offers for help. While the offers were welcome, they were also taxing on the organization’s infrastructure. Luckily, though, the IT community was among those offering to give a hand.

“This has been a terrible, terrible disaster, but the outpouring of response and support that we’ve received from the IT community all across the nation, even across the world, has been absolutely amazing. People have come out of the woodwork to lend us technical assistance. I mean, there are folks who want to get on buses and planes and come down here and help us,” said Joe Leo, the assistant director for information technology at the American Red Cross in Greater New York.

Vector Networks Inc., a Duluth, Ga.-based support software vendor, was just one among a long list of companies to offer assistance. The company donated its remote control software, PC-Duo, to the New York American Red Cross, a donation Leo says will help free up his staff.

The software allows IT workers to connect to PCs and servers around the world remotely through LANs, WANs and the Internet and work on those PCs and servers as if they were sitting in front of them.

“You can watch, share and control. So you can actually watch what somebody is doing, share the keyboard and mouse between the control PC and the client PC or take control of it yourself and put right anything that needs to be done,” said Andrew Parsons, vice-president of Vector Networks.

The product is designed to cut down on travel time for technicians, Parsons said.

And this is an important ability for the New York chapter of the Red Cross, which serves five boroughs and four counties.

“It isn’t so much the repairs, it’s the distance. Some of our chapters are two, two-and-a-half hours away. You still have to travel two-and-a-half hours each way for something that can take you anywhere from five minutes to five hours to fix and rectify,” Leo said. “This will free up the workers to get on to the real work, which is strengthening our infrastructure.”

The Canadian Blood Services (CBS) also experienced an increased demand on its infrastructure in wake of the attacks. And even though its Web site had a 3,400 per cent increase in user sessions per hour, and the blood information system experienced a 117 per cent increase in daily transactional processing, the organization’s systems never went down.

“Everybody was quite impressed once we looked at the stats over the week. It was the extreme based on a number of hits. [The Web site] handled quite well and was able to handle all of the sessions. Nobody really got timed out,” said Bill Ferguson, the acting director of IT services in Ottawa at CBS.

“I guess nobody was really anticipating this type of increase. But obviously any system that we create from a capacity perspective, you build in extra capacity,” he said.

The CBS, which currently has an NT-based system and normally has an average of 14 user sessions an hour, experienced an average of 487 users per hour on Sept. 12 and added two servers to its network.