Helping Governments Recover from Disasters: Microsoft and Partners Provide Technology and Other Assistance Following Natural Disasters in Haiti and Pakistan

By Andrea Carlos

When the earthquake shook Haiti on January 12, 2010, Juste Ernst Rene was inside the university, Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti, in a room with three other people. The earthquake leveled the building, killing two of the people and leaving the third in critical condition. Rene was trapped under the walls of the school for hours, but was eventually rescued without serious injury.

When the earthquake shook Haiti on January 12, 2010, Juste Ernst Rene was inside the university, Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti, in a room with three other people. The earthquake leveled the building, killing two of the people and leaving the third in critical condition. Rene was trapped under the walls of the school for hours, but was eventually rescued without serious injury.

Haiti Earthquake
Haiti Earthquake: The earthquake that rocked
Haiti in January 2010 killed more than 200,000
people, and displaced 2.3 million Haitians—
one-quarter of the population.
Although Rene survived the disaster, he lost friends, relatives, and his dream of becoming a computer scientist. Altogether, the massive earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and decimated the country’s infrastructure, leaving millions of Haitians in a day-to-day struggle for survival.

Yet thanks to a private-public partnership that is training IT workers to help rebuild Haiti, within nine months Rene was once again studying computer science and getting the hands-on experience he needed to move his career forward. “We lost many teachers, students, and materials when the earthquake hit,” says Rene. “This is a chance for us to rebuild. I can continue my studies and get valuable work experience. And we can begin using IT to help Haiti develop.”

Rene is one of many people benefiting from the work that Microsoft and its partners are doing to respond to natural disasters in different parts of the world. Over the past several years, Microsoft has formed a variety of private-public partnerships to assist local governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with relief efforts after a natural disaster occurs. There are no greater examples of these efforts than the Microsoft response to the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010 and to the massive flooding that began displacing millions of people in Pakistan six months later.

““The heroes amidst these tragedies are the NGOs, local governments, and international organizations who are on the ground saving and rebuilding lives,” says Linda Zecher, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft. “Technology can be a crucial component in enabling those efforts. We are proud to work with a range of public and private partners to help them utilize IT to the fullest—before, during, and after a natural disaster. “

*We are proud to work with a range of public and private partners to help them utilize IT to the fullest—before, during, and after a natural disaster.*

Linda Zecher
Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector

In both Haiti and Pakistan, Microsoft and its partners worked with intergovernmental agencies, such as the United Nations (UN), local governments, and NGOs, to assess the needs and offer support. The emergency responses to Haiti and Pakistan were addressed in two stages—the initial effort is always focused on saving lives immediately following a disaster, and the long-term efforts are centered on the rebuilding process.

As the situations in Haiti and Pakistan demonstrate, a blanket one-solution-fits-all response is never possible due to the individual differences of each natural disaster. Still, Microsoft and its partners were able to customize solutions to support the specific needs of each of these two countries.

“By helping governments and NGOs strengthen their core communications infrastructure, we can help them save lives and rebuild countries to be stronger than they were before the disaster occurred,” says Claire Bonilla, Senior Director of Disaster Management at Microsoft.

Initial Response to the Disasters
When a natural disaster occurs, Microsoft activates its core disaster management team, which works side-by-side with other organizations to assess the situation and provide support.

The team draws upon a portfolio of offerings that includes providing technology to lead response organizations, placing trained volunteers on the ground, driving global donations through, and coordinating response efforts with partner companies. The initial responses to Haiti and Pakistan included a mix of these offerings.

First Response to the Haiti Earthquake
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the city of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding regions of Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people, and displacing 2.3 million Haitians—one-quarter of the population. Immediately after the earthquake hit, Microsoft activated its disaster response team, which contacted the UN, the Haitian government, and NGOs working in Haiti to see what help they required.

Pakistan Flood
Pakistan Flood: Monsoon rains began drenching
Pakistan in late July 2010, putting an estimated
one-fifth of the country under water.
Within hours of the quake, the team began to coordinate short-term and long-term support for Haiti. Microsoft donated U.S.$3.25 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the disaster relief effort, of which more than $1 million came from Microsoft employees. The company helped raise public and individual donations through multiple Microsoft channels, including MSN, Bing, and Xbox LIVE. In addition, Microsoft supported a number of projects to restore Internet connectivity and to improve communication channels for humanitarian workers on the ground and around the world.

Created a Single Source for Communication
One of the Microsoft team’s first efforts following the earthquake was to work with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to implement a central collaboration portal that enabled all humanitarian organizations to exchange information. The OneResponse website was initially used to facilitate the exchange of information following the tropical cyclone in Myanmar in May 2008. It was adapted for use in Haiti after humanitarian organizations agreed that a single website was needed to communicate more efficiently during emergencies at the country level.

OCHA managed the portal, while Microsoft committed to developing, hosting, and supporting the portal. “The portal gave the responders an easy way to exchange information during the initial response,” says Bonilla. “This made it easier to respond effectively to critical humanitarian needs while avoiding duplication of services.”

Restored Internet Connectivity
Another request came from NetHope, a consortium of 32 humanitarian organizations that use technology to drive advances in the developing world. The earthquake had severed all fiber optic cables coming into the island, destroying Internet connectivity.

*By helping governments and NGOs strengthen their core communications infrastructure, we can help them save lives and rebuild countries to be stronger than they were before the disaster occurred.*

Claire Bonilla
Senior Director of Disaster Management, Microsoft

NetHope and nonprofit partner Inveneo were working to set up a long-distance wireless network and contacted Microsoft for help. Within hours, Microsoft responded and sent NetHope $50,000 to fund the wireless equipment and engineers needed to set up the network.

“The speed and generosity of the response accelerated what we were able to do by three to four days, and that’s significant when you’re talking about a small window of time that rescue efforts can take place,” says Frank Schott, Global Program Director at NetHope.

Bridged the Translation Gap
To respond effectively in the days following the earthquake, humanitarian workers also needed a way to quickly translate between English and Creole, the language spoken by 8 million people in Haiti. Responding to this need, members of the Machine Translation team within the Microsoft Research Natural Language Processing group worked around the clock to add Haitian Creole to its online translation engine.

Drawing upon Creole glossaries and other translation resources from Carnegie Mellon University, government agencies, and websites, Microsoft developed the translation system in just five days, compared to the weeks or months it normally takes to add a new language.

Once developed, humanitarian workers were able to bridge the gap between Creole and English using online applications such as Bing Translator and Microsoft Translator Tbot in Windows Live Messenger.

Simplified Mobile Communication
Microsoft also worked with partner Twisted Pair Solutions to bring the company’s WAVE® critical communications platform to Haiti to help workers communicate no matter what device they were using. Many disaster response workers arrived using different communications technologies such as two-way radios, cellular phones, and computers.

The WAVE platform, built on Microsoft technology and unified communication technologies, provides a cloud-based solution that delivers interoperability among any number of different devices. This allowed humanitarian workers to better coordinate their medical response.

In the days following the earthquake, WAVE was deployed as part of a tactical fly-away kit provided by TracStar Systems, maker of satellite communications systems. The kit was delivered to Haiti via private charter and used to facilitate communication among hospitals, ambulance drivers, and NGOs providing medical assistance.

*The speed and generosity of the response accelerated what we were able to do by three to four days, and that’s significant when you’re talking about a small window of time that rescue efforts can take place.*

Frank Schott
Global Program Director, NetHope

“When a disaster occurs, you have to bring your own communications to that location, and the problem is that the devices people bring tend to be very diverse,” says Tom Guthrie, President and CEO of Twisted Pair. “We want to allow any of those systems, no matter who made them or how they work, to connect so people can talk to each other and share critical information.”

First Response to Pakistan Flooding
Heavy monsoon rains began drenching Pakistan in late July 2010, causing unprecedented flooding that put an estimated one-fifth of the country under water. According to the United Nations, 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.

Unlike the Haiti earthquake, which struck all at once, the flooding in Pakistan happened gradually over the course of several weeks, eventually wiping out 5 million acres of crops and destroying 1.9 million homes. The steady worsening of the floods made the initial response more difficult to assess.

After the flooding began, Microsoft immediately activated its disaster response team to monitor and respond to the situation and offer its support. Since then, the company has donated more than $5 million in cash, software, and technical assistance.

Matched Employee Donations
In the days and weeks after the flood, the company announced that it would match all employee donations to Pakistan. Altogether, Microsoft and its employees from around the world contributed more than $900,000 in cash donations to help flood victims. In addition, Microsoft contributed software, portable computers, cameras, and training to NetHope, the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, and other NGOs working in Pakistan. It also provided a grant to the Punjab Youth Council to help volunteers respond to the disaster at the village level.

“Because of our employees’ individual generosity and the company’s matching grant program, we have been able to be on the ground immediately in support of the needy,” says Kamal Ahmed, Country General Manager at Microsoft Pakistan. “Our own office here in Pakistan has made great efforts to meet the needs of communities in a five-hour radius who have lost everything.”

Provided an Effective Disaster Response System
In addition to providing cash and technology support, Microsoft worked with Punjab’s Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif and the Provincial Management Disaster Authority (PDMA) to identify an effective disaster response system.

After discussing the options, Sharif and the PDMA decided to implement the Eagle Suite solution, a location-based crisis management system from 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. Geodan and Esri Netherlands donated the Eagle Suite solution and trained government officials to use the system, while Microsoft donated technical assistance and licenses of Microsoft SharePoint Server. Altogether, 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 center as well as thousands of mobile people who need to be in touch with these control centers,” says Henk Scholten, CEO of Geodan. “Setting up a disaster management system under these circumstances is no easy task, yet with Eagle we were able to do it very quickly.”

Scholten says the Eagle Suite solution helped workers quickly channel aid to where it was most urgently needed. “The moment you have a disaster such as a flood, you need to have an overview of what’s happening, and the only way to do that is with an accurate map,” says Scholten. “You need to know where the flood victims are located, where the supplies are located, and the best routes for getting food and medicines to flood victims. That information didn’t exist when we first arrived.”

The Eagle Suite solution. built using Microsoft technology, mapping and cloud-based technologies, uses a geographic information system (GIS) to give users real-time information about the location of resources, supply inventory, and evacuees. It provides a centralized system in which all organizations responding to a disaster have easy access to up-to-date information, and where new information entered into the system is immediately available to all users.

Long-Term Recovery Efforts
While the initial responses to both the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan flooding are well in the past, Microsoft continues to help with long-term efforts to rebuild these countries through a series of educational and government-related projects and programs.

Rebuilding in Haiti
In Haiti, Microsoft has focused its recovery efforts on developing IT expertise to help rebuild the country and improving education through technology. It is also working with the Haitian government to set up a platform to help deliver secure communications.

Building IT Expertise
In the days following the earthquake, NetHope learned there was a significant lack of educated IT workers in Haiti to maintain the computer systems needed for long-term relief efforts. Haiti, which already had a shortage of IT workers, lost even more during the earthquake.

NetHope responded with a plan to launch the NetHope Academy to provide local IT skills training to build in-country technical expertise. The organization called upon technology companies Microsoft, Accenture, and Cisco to help. The goal of the NetHope Academy is to help Haiti rebuild by empowering Haitians with the technical education, skills, and experience to redevelop Haiti stronger than it was before the earthquake.

Microsoft donated software curriculum and certification standards and recommended Microsoft certified trainers and other expertise that the academy would need to start training the students.

In September 2010, the NetHope Academy admitted its first 36 students. They attended an intensive two-and-one-half-week classroom “boot camp.” Following the boot camp, each student went to work for an NGO doing work in Haiti to get the hands-on-training they needed. All 36 students are expected to graduate in March 2011 and many already have confirmed jobs.

“NetHope gives us the practical experience that we can use to help the NGOs in the IT field,” says Jude Antenor, a NetHope Academy intern. “I want to take what I’ve learned and use it to create my own business and to give jobs to Haitian people.”

The NetHope Academy has been so successful that the Accenture Foundation has provided a grant to extend the program to more students in Haiti later in 2011 and to begin a similar program in sub-Saharan Africa in 2012. Microsoft will continue to support the program as it expands to more areas around the world.

“Just about every developing world country has challenges with unemployed youth,” says Schott. “Wherever there are concentrations of NGOs, you see opportunities to do things like what we did in Haiti.”

Improving Education Through Technology
In addition to its support for NetHope, Microsoft, along with Inveneo, HP, and The EKTA Foundation, made a commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) 2010 annual meeting to invest $1.5 million in communications, technology, and Internet connectivity in Haiti. One of the key components of this commitment is Lighthouse Labs, a project to improve education through technology by building computer labs at 40 schools serving 24,000 Haitian students by the end of 2012.

“Most schools in Haiti not only are separated by a digital divide, but often don't even have basic resources such as current textbooks,” says Scott Edwards, Senior Director of Strategic Programs and Partnerships at Microsoft. “Microsoft believes that providing affordable, accessible access to technology resources can help bridge that gap.”

A key obstacle to installing computer labs in Haiti is lack of electricity. Most schools in Haiti do not have power, and those that do typically get their power from a diesel generator, which costs roughly 14 times as much as the average user pays for electricity in the United States. To address this issue, Microsoft is building its labs using Windows MultiPoint Server 2011, a Windows operating system that allows multiple students to simultaneously share a computer’s processing power—each with their own monitor, mouse, and keyboard. Windows MultiPoint Server makes it possible to build an entire school lab at a fraction of the cost with up to an 80 percent reduction in power consumption compared to a standard lab.

Microsoft installed its first Lighthouse Lab in October 2010 at the Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti (ESIH), the country’s leading computer science college, which was destroyed by the earthquake. With the school rebuilt and the Lighthouse Lab installed, the college’s 750 students are using the computers for Internet access, computer-programming projects, and for their basic school work.

“The students’ experiences are as good as if they were working on standalone computers,” says Patrick Attié, Director of ESIH. “As we expand, Windows MultiPoint Server will likely save us hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs, as it will allow ESIH to eventually move from diesel to solar. Further, we are saving 90 to 95 percent in IT management costs, in addition to the hardware acquisition savings.”

Rebuilding in Pakistan
While the long-term recovery efforts in Haiti focus on IT skills and education, in Pakistan Microsoft is helping government officials to operate more efficiently and transparently than before the flooding occurred. This, in turn helps the government to attract the donations it needs and to focus its rebuilding efforts where they are most needed.

Monitoring Donations
To help the Pakistani government monitor donation spending, Microsoft has donated Grants360, a state-of-the-art monitoring system designed to provide donors and the public with detailed information as to how their donations are being spent.

Microsoft offered to donate the software after officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development told the company they were having trouble getting donors to pay for the reconstruction of Pakistan, which will cost an estimated $40 billion. “Donors were reluctant to provide new money for reconstruction because they didn’t have confidence in the government—there was no transparency,” says Jeffrey Avina, Director of Citizenship and Community Affairs for Microsoft Middle East and Africa.

Grants360, a cloud-based solution built on the Windows Azure platform and that uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM, enables government officials to track donations, while allowing donors to see how their donations are spent. The software was adapted from Stimulus360, designed by Microsoft to help the Obama administration and state governments to track spending of TARP stimulus funds.

Microsoft worked with Punjab Chief Minister Sharif to roll out the system in September 2010. Since then, the Punjab government has decided to use the solution to manage all of its finances, not just donations, and the solution is drawing interest in other government ministries.

“Our goal is to give Pakistan and its donor partners a state-of-the-art national fund management system, enabling real-time transparency and efficiency at the highest level,” says Ahmed.

Managing Rebuilding Efforts
The Punjab government has started using the Geodan Eagle Suite solution to assist with its long-term rebuilding efforts. The solution is being used to track the location and availability of inventory and to monitor long-term rebuilding efforts in different parts of the country.

Readiness for Future Disasters
Microsoft will continue to strengthen its public- and private-sector partnerships so that it can respond effectively to future disasters. “The more we work in this space, the more we know who the actors are and what the response agencies need,” says Bonilla. “This enables us to be as prepared and productive as possible.”

In addition, Microsoft will continue to work with its partners to develop innovative technology solutions and programs that support disaster management efforts around the world.

“Effective communication, collaboration, and access to information are important in any situation; during natural disasters they can save lives,” says Zecher. “We are committed to continually innovating with our partners to support local communities when disaster strikes and help them rebuild a world even better than before.”

Learn more:

Additional Information about Microsoft

Microsoft Corporate Citizenship

Microsoft for Government

Microsoft for Education

Technology Helps Pakistan Relief Workers Improve Disaster Response

By Andrea Carlos

Geodan and Esri Netherlands built the Eagle Suite based on Microsoft technologies. The Eagle solution uses:

  • Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010 collaboration software to integrate emergency-management information from multiple sources.
  • Bing Maps to display this emergency management information spatially, allowing users to zoom in from an aerial view all the way down to a street-side view.
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server to store all of the emergency management information, along with contacts, task lists, and other data, and display this information in a central portal available using a web browser.
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 to store SharePoint data and allow workers to perform queries, searches, and analyses.
  • Microsoft Surface to help workers gain an overview of the disaster on a table-wide interactive display and interact with maps using a touch-screen interface.
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, workers in the same area can continue to work with up-to-date information offline.

Pakistan Flood
Pakistan Flood
“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 Dermott Barry, Worldwide Public Sector Public Safety Industry Manager at Microsoft. “So, it’s a good technology for emergency situations where you don’t always have the technology infrastructure in place.”

The solution providers installed a component of the Eagle suite called Eagle Live in a private cloud, offering up-to-date information on a map, available to workers through a web browser. With 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 information that’s needed for relief efforts very fast after a disaster occurs—it’s revolutionary,” says Henk Scholten, CEO of Geodan.

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Innovative Operating System Helps Haitian Schools Save Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Power Costs 

By Andrea Carlos

Microsoft built Lighthouse Labs using Windows MultiPoint Server, a Windows operating system targeted at educational settings such as classrooms, labs, and libraries. With Windows MultiPoint Server, up to 10 students can share one computer with a central processing unit (CPU), each with his or her own monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Each student individually controls his or her own station with an independent and familiar Windows computing experience.

Lighthouse Labs
Lighthouse Labs

Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti (ESIH), Haiti’s leading computer science college, became the first education institution in Haiti to install a Lighthouse Lab in October 2010. By basing its computer lab on Windows MultiPoint Server, the college:

  • Realized an 80 percent power savings compared to standard desktop PCs.
  • Expects to save U.S.$50,000 in annual energy costs –or $20.83 per hour—by moving from diesel generators to solar.  

  • Slashed lab maintenance costs by more than 90 percent.
  • Reduced the hardware cost of each workstation by more than 50 percent.

The power savings that ESIH has gained by using Windows MultiPoint Server may make it possible for the college to move from diesel power to solar power in the future. “With the old configuration, we would have needed 600 to 700 solar panels at a total cost is $1.5 million,” says Patrick Attié, Owner of ESIH. “It was way too expensive, and we didn’t have the physical roof space to do it. But with Windows MultiPoint Server, the cost would be less than half, which is something we can consider. In the long run, it could save us hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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Größe des Kunden: Large Organization
Branche: Government; IT Services; Nonprofit; Charities & Philanthropic
Land oder Region: Haiti
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Windows Multipoint Server
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM
  • Bing Maps
  • Xbox LIVE
  • Windows Live Messenger

Based in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft Corporation is a global leader in software, services, and Internet technologies for personal and business computing.

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