VOST Portugal began as a volunteer effort after fires ravaged the forests of Monchique, Portugal in August 2018. When the fires began, a group united on Twitter to share important information around the clock, even while traditional media sources remained silent. After connecting with each other, the volunteers decided to create a single Twitter account to keep those at risk informed of the fire’s movements.
When Hurricane Leslie descended upon Portugal, the same group leveraged their Twitter account to help predict which areas would be the most dangerous and warn locals. The group’s reporting during the hurricane lent credibility to the organization, and the European Virtual Operations Support Team (VOST Europe) invited them to join the consortium.
More than one year later, VOST Portugal is focused, much like its European counterparts, on disseminating the communications of the official entities on social networks and helping all those affected, directly or indirectly, by a natural disaster or other type of event. Everyone at VOST Portugal is a volunteer who works for the benefit of the community.
VOST Portugal operates like a virtual online support team. Local authorities come to them with information to distribute to the general population, which they share via their website — creating a new subdomain for each event or incident.
VOST Portugal applied to Project Galileo during the fuel crisis in Portugal in early 2019, when they were trying to serve more than 12 million page view requests in the span of 48 hours. The increased pressure on their origin server caused infrastructure problems that the organization would not have been able to handle without Cloudflare.
Cloudflare’s powerful caching features enabled VOST Portugal to stay online during this frenzied period. When the team saw that 465 people were viewing the website at the same time, they were both proud and amazed. Just minutes later, they had hit 10,000 concurrent site visitors. Cloudflare helped them weather these unpredictable spikes.
When they first set up their website, the VOST Portugal team worried about it being insecure. One of their development leads said in a meeting, “every time I go on the website, I cringe.” While looking for solutions, they found Cloudflare and set up a free account. Everyone was very excited when they found out about Project Galileo, as they were able to leverage additional resources such as Cloudflare’s Web Application Firewall — enabling them to block malicious requests, such as SQL injections, which could be used to obtain private information from their databases or deface the website and spread incorrect information.
The non-profit now has more than 35 volunteer developers who are helping them build their mobile application and dashboard. They hope to supplement the official government app, which doesn’t currently cross-reference weather warnings, and leverage their ability to monitor weather in different parts of the country.
With unplanned crises and events, such as natural disasters and strikes, happening at any given time, the tools provided by Cloudflare help VOST Portugal bring more reliable information to the population. Regardless of the amount of traffic heading to the organization’s website, VOST Portugal is able to stay up-and-running and serve out their purpose — without having to pay for expensive services.