A group of Microsoft technologists quickly deployed to contribute their time and talent to the relief effort, and decided to develop a Web site and supporting applications to help Katrina evacuees reach out to relatives and friends and also enable families to locate people they have not heard from since the hurricane hit, said Jim Carroll, chief architect and project manager for the system, known as KatrinaSafe.
KatrinaSafe is based on four primary components, Carroll said. The Web site and supporting system is based on Microsofts .Net Framework 1.1, SQL Server 2005, Microsoft Speech Server and Web services "so other sites can easily connect to us and send data via SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol]," he said.
The Speech Server component will enable the system to notify families via phone calls when their relatives have been found, or enable evacuees to leave voice messages for people, said J Sawyer, a Houston-based Microsoft developer evangelist in the companys Gulf Coast District.
For the bulk of the Web application work, the team used Visual Basic .Net, while they wrote all the classes and Web services in C#, Sawyer said.
"It is a heterogeneous language implementation," he said. "People chose what they knew best."
The system also includes a Smart Client application that enables users to deploy via HTTP and provides the capability for case workers to do things like perform offline search or enter new data into the system.
"Jim Keane from the MTC [Microsoft Technology Center] and I have been working on a Smart Client app for the aid workers to use in the field," said Sawyer on his blog. "It will have some functionality thats not on the web site, but, with the beauty of web services, we are using a common data store ... so what gets entered by the aid workers will be on the web and whats entered on the web will be available to aid workers."
The Smart Client application gives users the capability to track people and plug in data, and then the system will batch upload all the information to try to match evacuees with inquiries coming from people looking for friends and family members.
"When that match happens, Microsoft Speech Server kicks in, and either a call or an e-mail will go out notifying the searcher that the person they are looking for has been found," Sawyer said.
"Picture this ... a family waiting to hear from a loved one who was in the disaster area," Sawyer said. "Theyve not heard from them since the hurricane hit. Then they get a call saying that their loved one has been found and is at such-and-such evacuation center. Thats what were working for."
The KatrinaSafe site enables people to type in the name of the person they are looking for, as well as the persons home phone number and home city, and then it seeks to make a match from information in the system.