REDMOND, Wash., July 5, 2001 — Microsoft today announced the first recipients of the Microsoft Disaster Assistance Technology Grants. Three international humanitarian organizations — Mercy Corps, Save the Children and World Vision — will receive a combination of cash, software and Microsoft Consulting Service hours totaling more than $739,000 to apply innovative technology solutions to their disaster-assistance programs.
Disaster relief grants help people in Indonesia.
Microsoft made cash donations during several recent crises affecting such nations as Taiwan, Turkey, Venezuela, El Salvador and India. Microsoft Community Affairs and company employees also continually seek ways to use technology to help alleviate the suffering that results from natural disasters and complex emergencies. Microsoft’s expertise in technology puts the company in a unique position to be able to address the more complicated needs of relief organizations. The technology grants program builds upon the success of the Microsoft/UNHCR Kosovo refugee registration project, in which the challenge of managing refugee identification was resolved with an innovative technological solution.
Following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Save the Children, a leading international child-development and relief organization, spearheaded an effort to improve response time to emergencies and raise awareness on a community level for disaster planning and preparedness. The program was later accelerated after a major earthquake hit Central America this year. Working with the Disaster Management Center at the University of Wisconsin, emergency relief experts have planned a test for June, in order to be ready for the hurricane season, which typically begins in August. The program is part of an overall disaster mitigation and preparedness program in Nicaragua funded by the U.S. government through USAID. Nicaragua was chosen as the test site due to its vulnerability to several types of natural disasters. The technology will now be made available to relief organizations around the globe.
“Faster information gathering means a faster response, and a faster response means saving lives,” said Dennis Walto, PDA program manager at Save the Children. “In the aftermath of a major disaster, aid agencies must have accurate information in order to respond to people’s immediate needs, but collecting that data can take days — and precisely at a time when there is the greatest opportunity to save lives. By gathering and reporting crucial data electronically, we will be able to reach disaster victims in a more timely and effective way.”
The Save the Children grant (also known as “The PDA Solution”) consists of $150,000 in cash, as well as technical assistance and software for a total contribution of $339,000. The solution was developed by Doug Laundry and Mitch Hurst with Microsoft Consulting Services. Compaq donated the Pocket PCs used in the solution, designed for use in hardship areas where electricity or phone lines might not be functioning.
“Compaq is pleased to provide iPAQ Pocket PC technology for the Save the Children project,” said Cindy Box, director of marketing, iPAQ Mobile Solutions. “The ability to communicate wirelessly is more important than ever before, particularly in cases like this where people can provide humanitarian and disaster assistance using the iPAQ Pocket PC. We are proud to work with Microsoft and Save the Children to apply Compaq technology to a real-world need.”
The information collected will be used for disaster planning and preparedness efforts at the community level, and will be stored as baseline information in a database. In the event of another emergency situation, Save the Children will know the existing capacity of the community and be able to initiate rapid response efforts with minimal time delays.
Mercy Corps and Microsoft Consulting Services’ Ken Tanner recently returned from the successful pilot testing of the Food and Commodity Tracking System (FACTS) in Indonesia. The software solution enables monitoring of supplies from point of origin to distribution in the field and is already facilitating Mercy Corps’ food programs in Jakarta, which assist 60,000 people in the city’s urban slums.
“Its not often we get a chance to use our professional skills to help make a difference in the world,” Tanner said. “I’m proud to work for a company willing to commit resources to a worthy cause, and I’m grateful to have had an opportunity to participate.”
Every day in dozens of countries around the developing world, humanitarian aid agencies receive, store and distribute thousands of tons of commodities ranging from tents to vegetable oil. Program managers do their best to keep track of vast quantities of food and other commodities that have been shipped by air and sea to various ports or that have been bought at local markets. Each agency has its own tracking system, and within each agency the system may vary.
FACTS will track commodities through distribution channels. Both headquarters and field staff can share management of inventory on the Internet-based system. Standardized reporting cuts management costs and potential losses, as workers will be aware of what is available and can deliver help more efficiently to those who need it most. FACTS is the collaborative project of several nonprofit relief and development organizations, led by Mercy Corps and including Project Concern International, Food for the Hungry International, American Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services. Microsoft has provided funding and technical expertise in writing the code for the system.
In addition, Microsoft Consulting Services designed a blueprint for World Vision for a communications module using smart-card technology to provide victims of disaster with access to communication in the first days of a crisis.
Grant recipients must agree to share solutions with other agencies and with concerned audiences to enhance broader community learning. Their proposals must include clearly defined methods for disseminating their solution to others confronting similar challenges.