By Molly Bull, Senior Communications Manager, Microsoft Disaster Response
Instead of holding its annual company meeting which typically takes place in September, this year Microsoft announced a new event called //oneweek which ran the entire last week of July. The event was designed to inform, inspire and to actively engage employees in the company’s vision and strategy through a series of week-long activities which opened with a leadership-led forum covering key priorities for the year, followed by two interactive events – a Product Fair and a Hackathon.
At the Product Fair, employees had the opportunity to engage with Microsoft product teams to experience first-hand the exciting and innovative work happening across groups.
The company-wide Hackathon drew thousands of employees who submitted more than 3,000 hack projects. It was an opportunity that quickly caught the interest of Harmony Mabrey, Senior Operations Manager for Microsoft Disaster Response, who teamed up with employees from Microsoft Research, IT, Bing, and Office to create the project “Data is my superhero.” The project is part of Microsoft’s partnership with NetHope and in support of NetHope’s effort to transform how nonprofit organizations share humanitarian response data.
“The ability to coordinate aid and share information is critical for timely disaster relief,” says Gisli Olafsson, Emergency Response Director at NetHope. “Real-time and post-disaster evaluations consistently reveal that a lack of information-sharing between groups responding to large-scale disasters leads to inefficiencies in response efforts; inefficiencies that too often result in loss of life, extended human suffering and poor resource allocation.”
The “Data is My Superhero” hackathon project focus is on this very issue. Enabling real-time analysis and visualization of the vast amounts data that are generated during a disaster harnesses critical information for responders. The goal is to equip responders with immediate insights and researchers with tools to develop trends and disaster profiles that will help in preparedness planning and response. Microsoft Office Power BI and Power Map, which deliver key analytics capabilities, were used in the hack project and are available as Microsoft Office apps and add-ins.
“Existing technology such as social media, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), and sensors are increasing the amount of valuable information that is available to responders, but the data still needs to be analyzed to be valuable for critical decision making,” says Mabrey. “It was great to be able to use tools that are readily available to responders and to show how they can be immediately implemented in response plans today.”
The images above are screen captures of analytics created during the hack project. In the first image, Power BI enables responders to monitor project status throughout the response, and the second image provides donors with visibility into unmet funding needs. The hack team also created a variety of other analytics and visualizations based upon data from Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda and made recommendations on the existing data model for how business intelligence can be used even more effectively for future response efforts.
The Microsoft Disaster Response team and NetHope continue to work on transforming how data is shared and analyzed during disaster response to keep people safe, informed, and connected.