Putting Technology to Work for Disaster Response
Molly Bull, Senior Communications Manager, Microsoft Disaster Response
As natural disasters occur more frequently and cause severe impacts to the citizens and economies of global communities, governments are increasingly focused on building resiliency and preparedness.
First responders such as search & rescue teams, paramedics, and evacuation shelter volunteers need to rapidly exchange information in order to understand the needs of the community and to enable citizens to reconnect with resources and loved ones.
From mobile phones and PCs to social media to complex technology systems, devices and applications have become important parts of emergency management and key enablers of information sharing during relief efforts.
Harmony Mabrey’s Passion for the Program
The Microsoft Disaster Response program aims to improve disaster preparedness and response capabilities through the delivery of technology and expertise for first responders, citizens, and businesses.
For decades Microsoft has been responding to natural disasters, and in 2008 it made Disaster Response an official company program.
Harmony Mabrey, Senior Operations Manager for Microsoft Disaster Response, has been part of the team since the program launched. She explains that partnerships play a key role in strengthening and optimizing response efforts.
“By working with people across the industry – technology leaders and first responders – we can combine our unique perspectives, areas of expertise and core strengths to make the whole even stronger. The more we work together, the more diverse our unified response toolset becomes,” says Ms. Mabrey.
Mabrey describes the Disaster Response team’s approach as that of taking a challenge and working to understand the root of the problem from the perspective of those it impacts, and then applying the technology that can solve the issue. Sometimes those technologies come from Microsoft’s broad portfolio of devices and services, and other times Mabrey reaches beyond Microsoft’s walls to attain a combination of the right solutions that match the exact need.
“This is an example of where working with partners is essential. Whether it’s pulling in a technology expert or specialist like Esri to address a geographic information system (GIS) challenge, or working with a nonprofit partner to help provide visibility into efforts and needs on the ground, it’s important we ensure the solution will directly address the challenge in a way that works for those impacted,” she says.
“Another way we’re working toward sustainable solutions within the broader community,” she adds, “is through crowdsourcing and open data forums with groups like Humanitarian Toolbox and Random Hacks of Kindness where we can tap into the passion of other technology experts who want to contribute to the innovation ecosystem for disaster response.”
Why Technology Matters
In time of emergency, information is a critical commodity and technology can offer a number of ways to share it. For community members who may need a way to find or reach out for assistance, for first responders who may be tracking shelter availability and goods disbursement, or for governments who need to quickly communicate real-time with citizens, easy access to information can be critical during disasters.
“September was National Preparedness Month and a number of organizations provided resources on how to gain access to important information during disasters,” says Mabrey. “You can find several on Twitter at #NATLPREP.”
Mabrey also describes the importance of having an established process in place and practicing emergency plans in advance of a disaster. “Knowing I can rely on our team’s protocol and tools to do my job during the most stressful circumstances is a guiding force, and when I’m not responding to disasters I try to reinforce the same message for individuals that personal preparedness plans, emergency kits, and knowing how to gain access to information – sometimes relying on back-up systems – is essential.”
Finding Inspiration at Microsoft
During disasters, the team experiences an influx of emails from Microsoft employees asking how they can help. “The great thing is that they can” says Mabrey. “The program was built in response to our employees’ passion to get involved and make a difference during times of need. Now we can direct their efforts in a programmatic way, but it’s always been the passion of our employees that make the program work. Having access to the company’s innovation and working with the people that make it all happen is something that makes me feel great about the work I do at Microsoft.”