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Microsoft in your community

Helping coworkers and community members during severe winter weather in Texas

In February 2021, Texas was hit by an extreme winter weather event. While the average February low temperature is in the mid-40s, San Antonio’s temperature plummeted to 9 degrees on February 15, with a windchill of -8 degrees—the second coldest on record. The storm slammed the city’s infrastructure and supply chains, causing the community to go into survival mode, with even local relief organizations struggling to respond.

Banding together to ensure business continuity

Initial forecasts in the San Antonio area called for a slight chance of minor snow accumulation—an exciting prospect for an area that rarely sees snow. Quickly, though, the severity of the storm became apparent. Debbie Powell, Datacenter IT Operations Manager, explains. “By Monday the 15th, there were rolling blackouts in progress. The following day, much of the city had moved from rolling blackouts to total darkness in their homes. Over 300,000 residents were without any power, and many residents were also without water. The few hotels with power and water were quickly fully booked. Thursday was going to be extra challenging. Having already seen close to four inches of snow, record low temperatures, and impassible road conditions, a second round of low temperatures and nearly three additional inches of snow was only going to make matters worse.” Alex Icenogle, Community Development Program Manager in San Antonio, described the experience. “As you can imagine, this caused our community to go into survival mode and everyone rushed to their local grocer to buy bread, bottled water, and blankets to keep them warm. Since our city does not have the resources to clear ice and snow from the roads, this became a logistics nightmare for local grocers and any emergency response organizations.”

In a true team effort, Powell, Joe Pastrano (CBRE), Ted Lopez (Energy Marshal), and Justin Shaw (Datacenter Project Manager) went to stores across the city to find any available food for the onsite team. Hotel rooms were booked with the assistance of Ana Dorevich (Executive Business Administrator) and Powell, a catering company was sourced by Denton Deutsch (Senior Site EHS Manager), and pallets of bottled water obtained in partnership by Lopez and Cris Goodwin (Finance). Powell says, “By the end of the weekend we had received 6,356 cases of water, distributed 1,500 meals, and reserved 23 hotel rooms reserved for 52 people and their 13 pets.”

“Since our city does not have the resources to clear ice and snow from the roads, this became a logistics nightmare for local grocers and any emergency response organizations.”
—Alex Icenogle, Community Development Program Manager, San Antonio

Finding ways to assist local organizations

The storm also damaged a great many structures. As this level of severe weather is so rare, the insulation in pipes and walls was, in many cases, not sufficient to prevent freezing. Frequently, this also resulted in burst pipes, causing massive damage to homes and businesses. Icenogle explains, “As people tried to be creative about keeping warm, there were reports of fires in apartments and homes; the fire departments were unable to put out fires due to frozen water lines.”

Kraig Jackson from the local Microsoft datacenter was fortunate to retain heat and electricity, so he was able to open his home to families who were without. Major sports stadiums, convention centers, and churches were opened as warming centers, providing food and blankets. Because of the treacherous road conditions, many organizations and agencies that would typically help in crises were unable to act.

The datacenter employees reached out to a significant number of organizations to learn how they were responding to the storm. While many organizations were unable to act due to the lack of resources and icy road conditions, there were several agencies that helped where they could. The Microsoft team determined the best way to make an impact during the crisis was to provide replenishment funding to those organizations who were able to assist during this time and whose resources were, in many cases, depleted.

Microsoft worked with the San Antonio Food BankBlessed Angels Community Center (an emergency food pantry), Psi Alpha, and the regional branch of the Red Cross to maximize the impact of their community investments. The combined $90,000 in funding Microsoft provided will be used to cover the costs of transit vouchers, groceries, and toiletries, and to replenish local organizations’ coffers in the aftermath of the weather event. The Red Cross was one of the few agencies with the logistical ability to respond as the storm was happening. They placed 45 people into 15 hotel rooms, deployed shelter and support trailers, and helped over 10,000 people in the region by providing water, food, and blankets. Despite the extremely difficult circumstances, community businesses, agencies, and Microsoft team members came together to support one another and ensure funding will be available going forward. Michael Martin, Datacenter Campus Director, sums it up. “Without this effort, dedication, sacrifice, and ‘One Team’ mentality from everyone, none of what we accomplished could have been done with the same degree of success. This event will never be forgotten and brought the team closer together as a result. It’s enlightening to see how well we all pulled together to overcome this challenging situation and we will be stronger because of it.”