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Water in the hand: using the cloud to respond to flood disasters in Thailand

When a group of Thai software developers saw how residents relied on fragmented social media posts and occasional radio announcements to get traffic information during severe floods in their country, they decided to make an ambitious integrated cloud-based solution that would give citizens access to reliable local flood information.

They named the app ‘Varee’ which translates to ‘Water’. As Jirawat Pattanayutanachot of the Varee software development team recounts:We found that Thailand, especially Bangkok, has lots of flood water situational data sources but they are kept in many different departments, making it hard to access and understand by the general public. We thought we could use our programming skills to build an application centralizing all these data and integrating it into easy to understand, visualized real time information. That is why we made Varee.”

The Varee app is a public platform that aggregates multiple water data sources. It combines live video feeds of the roads from government run CCTV cameras, flood updates from the Ministry of Water Resources, and local information posted on social media by using the hashtag #flood (#น้ำท่วม) as a tracker. Bangkok citizens then have multiple, reliable data all in one place to inform decisions on their travel plans and business contingencies.

Varee provides users with real time flood warning updates, live feeds as well as alternative routes to their destination.

It was the possibility of saving lives and making a positive socio-economic impact that motivated the Varee team in their quest. With Varee, businesses can keep running by planning alternative delivery routes for their goods and services, emergency services can work out the best way to access people in need, school buses and children can find alternative routes so they don’t miss out on their education, and people in wheelchairs can make alternative plans.

The Varee team knew they needed to build this solution using a scalable, intelligent, and trusted cloud platform. As Jirawat explains, “Cloud-based solutions minimize efforts for setup, security and server maintenance so you can focus on the issues that you would like to solve. We host the Varee app on Microsoft Azure because it can handle the heavy load from users without downtime. We leverage Azure Cosmos DB, a fantastic service to store and query real-time data from an enormous amount of sensors without delay or slowdowns. We also use Power BI to visualize big and high complexity data on one dashboard, without having to write a line of code.”

With the Thai Government’s commitment to OpenData policies, Varee has access to thousands of CCTV road camera feeds.

With the solution in place, the next big challenge for the Varee team was to link with a multitude of partners who were custodians of the data they needed to aggregate in the Varee app. The Thai Government, who committed to OpenData policies, allowed the team to access and aggregate the thousands of CCTV road camera feeds. The team also got the support from the nonprofit ChangeFusion to secure funding and build their capacity in partner relationship management and organizational development.

Their lucky break came when they won a competition run by the Asia Foundation. “The Asia Foundation funded the first hackathon on the topic of Developing OpenData for Disaster management and we were amongst the winning teams. At that time, Varee had been developed as a prototype with the objective of providing people with options to commute peacefully during flood disaster in Bangkok.”

By working with multiple partners including Microsoft, the team not only grew the functionality and user experience of the Varee app, but also made plans for the next exciting phase: extending its outreach to other Thai cities beyond Bangkok, for Varee to become the go to app for Thai citizens’ flood management.

As Jirawat concludes, “We hope that Varee will be an example of a good product that stemmed from the collaboration among companies, nonprofits, citizens and government and can help drive an open data mindset in Thailand.”

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To read more about Microsoft Philanthropies’ work to build a future for everyone in Asia, click here.