Microsoft to provide AI response tools for disaster first responders


The US government will co-chair a consortium, which will use deep-learning algorithms for near real-time data to assist in the high-pressure decision making surrounding disasters.

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Image: iStock/Kevin Lendio

As firefighters battle a series of major fires through most of California, from Los Angeles to nearly the Oregon border, the Department of Energy (DOE) Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office (AITO) announced the creation of the First Five Consortium, which it will co-chair with Microsoft. 

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In addition to the 267,000 acres of fires in California, there are 200,000 acres burning in Colorado and 8,000 acres in Montana: Clearly there is an unquestionable need for solutions to improve the impact mitigation of natural disasters in the US. Earlier this month marked the Atlantic hurricane season, and in May, rapidly rising water displaced tens of thousands of Michigan residents.

First Five was initially formed based on a January 2020 initiative focused on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response, which was developed from a White House Executive Forum. 

A DOE press release noted, “This cross-cut of industry, government, non-profit, and academia has pledged their in-kind support to develop solutions that will improve the impact mitigation of natural disasters in the United States.”

An initial prototype developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) of deep algorithms to provide real-time data to improve decision making is being scaled by the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC).

SEE: Future of farming: AI, IoT, drones, and more (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“Artificial intelligence enables us to address some of humanity’s greatest challenges, and in this case, improve disaster resilience for populations around the world,” said Toni Townes-Whitley, president of US regulated industries, Microsoft in a press release. “As evidenced by this consortium, we have joined with the DOE and DoD, it’s critical that private and public sectors work together to provide first responders with technology that has the potential to save lives.”

The nation’s first responders to natural disasters and health emergencies know too well how critical the first five minutes of a crisis are:

  • Five-minutes sets the stage for risk and outcomes of a firefight.
  • Dosage in a pediatric emergency within five minutes can mean life or death.
  • CPR and an automated defibrillator administered within five minutes can boost the chances of a sudden cardiac arrest victim’s survival from 6% to 74%.

With this in mind, the First Five Consortium was named for the first five minutes responding to a disaster and will apply AI and deep-learning methodologies to address a variety of research and development areas, including:

  1. Wildfire prediction and fire line containment;
  2. Damage assessment–ingress and egress routes for impacted areas;
  3. Search and rescue; and
  4. Natural disasters including hurricanes and tornadoes.

To help advance the country’s key systems, services, and functions essential to the US economy and society, Microsoft established an infrastructure team.

Huge promise in forecasting and detecting early signs of pending disaster are anticipated through comprehensive data collection. 

AI algorithms direct responders to the best focus for their aid and offer safer and faster responses. 

Microsoft’s team explores the following avenues to use AI:

  • confidential computing
  • modernized communications
  • distributed systems
  • cybersecurity to improve disaster resilience
  • collaborating with DOE, DoD, and more

Cheryl Ingstad, director of AITO, said in a press release, “This is just one project of the broader effort, which will include contributions from all our partners, to use technology to improve humanitarian assistance and disaster response in our nation.”

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