In the six years I have worked on the Cisco Corporate Affairs team, I have seen firsthand how natural disasters and humanitarian crises impact some of the world’s most vulnerable people.  

From Hurricane Maria devastating the island of Puerto Rico to armed conflicts forcing people to flee countries like Syria and South Sudan – when crises occur, they most often affect already vulnerable communities that lack the resources to respond and recover from them.  

According to the UN, 82.4 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. Millions of others are displaced by natural disasters, which are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change.  

The need for corporations to help is greater than ever. That is why I am excited to announce that we are redoubling our efforts to respond to both local and global crises by establishing a new team – Cisco Crisis Response.  

Actually, the team is not so much new as reimagined.  

Cisco has a strong legacy of leading the private sector in responding to crises around the world – especially when it comes to leveraging technology. Now we’re bringing together two existing teams to optimize our social impact.  

Our history of crisis response 

In 2003, Cisco established the Tactical Operations team to provide on-the-ground connectivity, collaboration, and security solutions for governments, disaster and humanitarian relief organizations, and populations affected by crisis. Since then, the team has responded to over 60 incidents in 25 countries on 6 continents, providing emergency connectivity, solutions consulting, and more. A network of more than 300 trained Cisco employees has supported the team with technical expertise, field deployments, equipment preparation, logistics assistance, training, and outreach. 

Meanwhile, our Critical Human Needs investment portfolio has provided cash and product grants to organizations responding to humanitarian crises – including homelessness, mass displacement, food and water insecurity, and natural disasters – for nearly 20 years. For example, the portfolio played a critical role in Cisco’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, providing more than $47 million in cash grants to nonprofits that were helping those most disproportionately affected by the pandemic: first responders, refugees, people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, and those facing food insecurity. We also work closely with organizations like Mercy Corps and Destination: Home through multi-year, multi-million-dollar partnerships. 

Our future as Cisco Crisis Response 

As one team, we can draw upon our collective resources and expertise to provide greater value to our partners working in emergency and humanitarian response. These resources run the gamut from cash and product grants, technical expertise, guidance on emergency connectivity and network security solutions, and on-the-ground equipment installations and deployments. 

Cisco Crisis Response is comprised of several full-time technical engineers, operations and logistics coordinators, and grant portfolio managers, along with an extended team of 300+ Cisco employees who volunteer their time and expertise.   

Here are five ways Cisco Crisis Response has already built capacity and scaled our impact since coming together 

  1. Full-time and volunteer engineers are advising on Cisco product selection for nonprofits receiving product grants. For example, we advised our nonprofit partner World Central Kitchen on deployable, emergency communications kits, provided loaner gear to test the solutions, and then awarded longer-term product grants. 
  2. Through the pandemic, we have provided equipment loans and remote assistance using cloud-based networking and collaboration technology to support 15 different COVID response efforts led by government agencies and NGO partners across the United States, ranging from county health department call centers and testing and vaccination sites to providing surge capacity for food bank warehouses. 
  3. We have increased our focus on capacity building for nonprofits and other agencies – which is critical because we cannot respond to every crisis that occurs. Through technical consulting, remote support, training, and joint deployments, we aim to build the capabilities of our emergency response and humanitarian partners.  
  4. We are developing and expanding our strategic partnerships with mission-aligned organizations that have complementary capabilities and resources. For example, Cisco Crisis Response just joined the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) as a standby partner. Managed by the United Nations World Food Programme, ETC is a global network of organizations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies.  
  5. We are increasing the ways in which our 300+ member trained employee corps can contribute.  For example, volunteers trained in Cisco Meraki cloud-managed networking have already assisted with network design, implementation, and operation of those solutions for some of our nonprofit partners. Formerly known as the Disaster Incident Response Team (DIRT), this valuable network of employees is now called the Cisco Crisis Response Community. 

In bringing together our collective capabilities and resources, we are expanding our focus from disaster preparedness and response to include resiliency building and longer-term recovery.  And through our partnerships and our combined financial, technical, physical, and human resources, we can help communities worldwide prepare for, respond to, and sustainably rebuild from crises.  

It is difficult to see the crises and the disasters that cause suffering around the world. But I am grateful that Cisco is investing in stronger crisis response capabilities, and excited about the possibilities for us to have an even greater impact on people and communities moving forward.   

Learn more about Cisco Crisis Response on cisco.com.


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Erin Connor

Director, Cisco Crisis Response

Social Impact Office