From the ashes of disaster, building a better Beirut
May 2021

Following the devastating Beirut port explosion on 4 August 2020, the city faced an enormous task to rebuild its shattered infrastructure. The third largest explosion in history damaged thousands of buildings up to 3,5km away from the explosion, 200 people tragically lost their lives, thousands were injured, and more than 300,000 people were displaced.

MAN Enterprise is an international leader in the construction industry, with its headquarters in the blast area. The team were affected emotionally, particularly because their founder, Mr. Michel Abi Nader, grew up in this area, and studied at the school across the street from their headquarters. For this team, and their major partner NGO Solidarity, “we had no choice but to act”.

For Solidarity, “It was natural for Solidarity to step in, at first to support the families, who are living below poverty lines and are on the list of food support we had then,” explains Charles G. Hage, Chairman of the Board at Solidarity.

The blast left behind massive destruction, and time was of the essence – the goal was to return families to their homes before winter struck and tragedy multiplied. The MAN Enterprise team started by creating an operations centre measuring 5,000m² in Medawar, at the centre of the damaged area, facilitating operation, facilitation, coordination efforts and response times to create a hub for engineering firms and NGOs involved in the rebuilding. The land was designed and implemented to include offices, meeting rooms, lay-down areas, infrastructure and parking lots.

“I had to ensure visibility, traceability, transparency, and we had to deploy our engineers as fast as possible to assess the apartments and survey the damages to bring people back to their homes before winter,” explains MAN Enterprise Managing Director Thierry Abi Nader. Operation and response times needed to be swift and efficient.

The Microsoft PowerApps Platform saves the day

Surveying the damage in hundreds of buildings and repairing them can be a very time-consuming process. Due to the number of destroyed homes, their dispersion, and the impossibility of managing the work without an application, the MAN engineers came up with the idea of using technology to develop a streamlined reconstruction process, creating a native Android and IOS preloaded app to assess the damages. The team turned to Microsoft PowerApps Platform. Within two weeks, the team was able to develop a fully-fledged, fully operational application.

“What’s important about the Power platform and PowerApps, [is that] that a group of engineers with no coding skills were able to build native apps across IOS and Android. This is the power of the platform, and this is what we needed. It was so fast and user-friendly,” says Abi Nader.

Engineers were sent to the damaged buildings, and using the mobile app, were able to input the building information, followed by the apartment unit information. With these entries completed, engineers could add damages from a predefined data list including category, item, damage level, repair time and measurements using the built-in measuring tool. In doing so, a list of damages was created for each unit, which could be used to automatically generate bills of quantities (BOQ) with images, ready to be sent for pricing and sub-contracting. By using Microsoft Tools, the engineering team were able to work in many apartments within the same time frame without compromising the quality of their tasks, and with much better time management.

“Instead of taking us hours or even days to create a bill of quantities using the traditional methodology of pen and paper, using Microsoft PowerAutomate, we were able to automatically create this process,” explains Elie Freiha, PMO Engineer at MAN Enterprise.

The Power Platform had a major impact on the process of the reconstruction

The team could also add other features to the PowerApp, including a quality control check list, with reports generated automatically on PowerBI and Bing Maps. The stages of construction were populated on the map, with colour-coded categories. The collected data, including interactive and recurring progress reports, was centralised in an online database connected to Microsoft Business Intelligence, ensuring full transparency and traceability, making sure that donors’ funds were channelled correctly.

“Words cannot describe the emotional and physical damages the resulted from this blast. The loss of lives is unthinkable and heartfelt throughout the world. With the help of the PowerApps, PowerAutomate and PowerBI, the recovery teams in the field were able to quickly create solutions that address some of the pressing challenges faced on the ground and accelerate the re-placement of people and families impacted by the blast. These services, part of the Power Platform, can help anyone, no matter their skillset, add value, by quickly and securely develop innovative apps to reduce inefficiencies, automate manual processes and tasks, and solve the challenges at hand. “noted Maher Al-Khaiyat, Senior Business Group Lead, Business Applications for Microsoft Middle East Africa -Emerging Markets.

Using Microsoft Tools and Power Platform, the project was able to avoid a bottleneck in execution and in the process, guaranteed a saving of 40 percent on the project duration, which in turn reduces indirect costs such as expenses and salaries.

Solidarity, and the community, were truly impressed by how quick and responsive the MAN Enterprise team was in assessing the damages and pricing the BOQ. “This process created full transparency for us. Donors who donated for certain criteria, we were able to map, we had proper reporting and we had a robust platform that allowed not only one NGO to do business, but also allowed them to have sub-donors under Solidarity,” says Hage.

“Because of the Power Platform, we were able to bring more than 1,000 people back to their homes – around 600 families. We’re going to continue on our mission, and we’re going to make Beirut alive again,” says Abi Nader.