Microsoft to Work on AI Disaster-Response Tools with the Government

The technology is designed to help first-responders work more effectively in the wake of natural disasters.
Chris Young

The U.S. Department of Energy and Microsoft announced on Tuesday that they will be teaming up to develop artificial intelligence (AI) tools to help first-responders react more efficiently to rapidly-changing natural disasters, including wildfires, floods, and hurricanes.

The initiative will be called the First Five Consortium, a nod to the first five minutes after a disaster, a crucial period for first-responders.


In 2019 alone, there were 14 disasters that caused over $1B each in damage. The First Five Consortium will utilize AI to help reduce this damage, as well as the loss of lives in future incidents.

“There are just so many technologies where we can solve some of the toughest problems, in a moment where we’re having an explosion of wildfires and floods and some really major natural disasters,” Cheryl Ingstad, director of the Energy Department’s Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office told The Wall Street Journal. “And we think we can bring AI to bear here and help save lives.”

The Energy Department will spearhead development and testing efforts while Microsoft will provide its technological know-how and resources, including its Azure cloud for AI model training and inference.

“Artificial intelligence enables us to address some of humanity’s greatest challenges, and in this case, improve disaster resilience for populations around the world,” Toni Townes-Whitley, president of US Regulated Industries, Microsoft, said in a press release.

The First Five Consortium, which is expected to have its first prototype ready this fall, already has two systems in the early development phase: one for mapping and predicting so-called fire lines, and the other for floods.

The ultimate goal is to use AI to analyze large datasets in real-time and at a speed and efficiency that humans simply cannot achieve. For example, it could detect blaze temperatures and wind direction at the same time in real-time, helping first-responders know where to allocate resources during natural disasters — an application that could help to save many lives.

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