Microsoft's Power BI-based app speeds recovery efforts in Hurricane-devastated Caribbean

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In September two Category 5 hurricanes ripped through the Caribbean causing extensive damage. Microsoft responded to the call for assistance by donating staff, software and online resources to help coordinate the recovery, resulting in a custom app called the Microsoft Building Damage Assessment app.

With a Power BI backend, the app lets officials tabulate the total amount of damage to housing stock and detect trends, like certain types of building materials that were more prone to collapse.

The app, which is optimized for tablets, let users easily enter information using drop-down boxes, photos and GPS location, works offline and can then upload the data for analysis when a connection is available.

Data collected by the application allowed U.N. recovery teams to establish that rather than 90% of buildings being irreparably damaged at Barbuda, 50% were ready to move back in to or need relatively minor, handyman-level repairs while the other 50% needed serious repairs or needed to be demolished, which allowed the U.N. to determine how much funds to allocate to the region.

“The Building Damage Assessment gave us information that the government has never had before,” said Ugo Blanco of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)  “It’s going to change the way assessments have been done. It can be deployed any time, anywhere. In a few days, we can have the teams in any country in the world.”

“This information is critical evidence,” Blanco said. “You can make policy decisions on how to rebuild.”

Besides creating the software, which was an updated version of an app created in 2015 following the Nepal earthquake,  Microsoft allocated ten employees to the project and donated 70 Surface tablets, keyboards and pens.

“With people suffering, moving fast was really important, and we felt that the time that normal application development takes would not work in this situation,” Microsoft’s Humanitarian Response Manager Cameron Birge said. “Given UNDP’s need to rapidly deploy, this meant the team had to respond and react more quickly, as challenges in information gathering and UX arose.”

Read a detailed report on Microsoft’s involvement in the recovery effort at Geekwire here.

More about the topics: app, microsoft, Power BI