By Andrea Carlos
Heavy monsoon rains began drenching Pakistan in late July 2010, causing unprecedented flooding that put an estimated one-fifth of the country under water. As many as 20 million people were affected and at least 10 million have been left without shelter—more than double the number of people affected by the 2004 tsunami and the Haiti earthquake combined, according to the United Nations. The flooding wiped out at least 5 million acres of crops and destroyed 1.9 million homes. Heavy monsoon rains began drenching Pakistan in late July 2010, causing unprecedented flooding that put an estimated one-fifth of the country under water. As many as 20 million people were affected and at least 10 million have been left without shelter—more than double the number of people affected by the 2004 tsunami and the Haiti earthquake combined, according to the United Nations. The flooding wiped out at least 5 million acres of crops and destroyed 1.9 million homes.
The Punjab province of Pakistan, an active flood plain formed by the southward-flowing Indus River, was severely affected by the flooding. The province, which covers a massive area (about the size of Italy) in the eastern part of the country, is Pakistan’s most densely populated region, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the country’s total population.
|Pakistan Flood: Using the Eagle Suite solution, workers were |
better able to coordinate response efforts following the
devastating flood that drenched Pakistan.
As flooding continued over the next several weeks, government officials in Punjab province found it difficult to access and share critical information, such as which areas of the province were under water, where to establish relief camps, and how to best transport emergency supplies to flood victims.
The government needed a disaster manage-ment system that could help coordinate response efforts for millions of people spread over a vast area. It was critical that the system be set up quickly so responders could begin targeting relief efforts quickly and effectively.
Fast Coordination with the Eagle Suite
Microsoft executives met with Punjab’s Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif and government officials in the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) to decide upon an effective solution. After hearing their needs, the executives demonstrated the Eagle crisis management solution, owned by Microsoft Partners Geodan and Esri Netherlands.
The Eagle Suite solution displays spatial data on a map along with relevant background information to give users a full picture of the disaster situation in different locations. Workers can quickly add, edit, and share geographical and textual data with other responders. They can also use Eagle to run analyses, such as determining the number of people in a given disaster area.
“Eagle provides real-time information on a map so you can interact with it,” says Dermot Barry, Managing Director of Worldwide Public Safety at Microsoft. “It also allows you to perform predictive analyses. For example, if the weather bureau predicts that the water is going to rise by 10 meters in a specific area,
you need to know: Where will we need to evacuate? Where are people going to be safe? Where should we put our resources? Eagle helps you answer these questions quickly and accurately so you can plan your response.”
The Eagle Suite is a cloud-enabled solution that uses Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010 collaboration software to integrate emergency-management information from multiple sources. The data is displayed on Bing Maps and integrated into a Microsoft SharePoint Server portal that highlights textual data. Eagle also uses Microsoft SQL Server 2008 to store SharePoint data and make it possible to perform queries, searches, and analyses. In addition, the solution uses Microsoft Surface to help workers gain an overview of the disaster from a table-wide interactive display using a touch-screen interface to interact with the maps.
One of the advantages of using Microsoft SharePoint Workspace in disaster response situations is that it offers the possibility to work both online and offline. SharePoint Workspace automatically begins to synchronize data when it detects an Internet connection. But when the Internet is not available, users in the same area can continue to work with up-to-date information offline. “When humanitarian workers with SharePoint Workspace technology on their devices come in range of each other, the devices automatically synchronize and exchange updated information,” says Barry. “So it’s a good technology for emergency situations where you don’t always have the technology infrastructure in place.”
After seeing the demonstration of the Eagle Suite, Sharif and PDMA ministry officials asked to have the software immediately implemented. Geodan and Esri Netherlands agreed to donate their solution and train government officials to use it, while Microsoft donated technical assistance and licenses of Microsoft SharePoint Server.
||Responders are exchanging information much faster than before they were using the technology. With more and improved information, they are making better decisions—faster.
At the same time as technicians worked to deploy the solution in Pakistan, a support team worked from the Netherlands to install part of the system in a private cloud. This component, called Eagle Live, displays a read-only view of up-to-date information on a map and is available to workers through a web browser. By installing Eagle Live in the cloud, it was possible to get critical relief information very quickly to those who needed it, without having to transport an elaborate infrastructure into Pakistan. “This way of working makes it possible to publicize the information that is needed for relief efforts very fast after a disaster occurs—it’s revolutionary,” says Henk Scholten, CEO of Geodan.
In total, it took workers just two days at the end of August to get the Eagle Suite up and running. “Punjab is a huge province with millions of people and eight affected districts, each with its own control centers, as well as thousands of mobile people who need to be in touch with these control centers,” Scholten says. “Setting up a disaster management system under these circumstances is no simple task, yet with Eagle we were able to do it very quickly.”
Better and Faster Decision-Making
By using the Eagle Suite, PDMA ministry officials and NGOs working in Pakistan have gained the insight they need to better coordinate response efforts. For example, they can now more easily track the location and availability of supplies. What’s more, they now have access to detailed, up-to-date information about the affected regions, the needs of flood victims in those areas, and the location of volunteers and aid workers. With a better understanding of the details of the situation, workers have been able to channel emergency supplies to where they are needed most. “Responders are exchanging information much faster than before they were using the technology,” says Scholten. “With more and improved information, they are making better decisions—faster.”
In addition to using Eagle to track inventory and coordinate response efforts, government officials in the PDMA ministry plan to use the software to develop an early warning system for future disasters. Microsoft, Geodan, and Esri Netherlands are also demonstrating the Eagle Suite to other ministries within Pakistan to show how the solution can help with the long-term rebuilding of the country. “The relief and restoration efforts will still take years, but we have created the foundation for a good supply of information,” says Scholten.