Earlier this month I covered the upcoming Strong Angel III, a six-day test and demonstation focused on innovations around
disaster response for local and global catastrophes. The event, hosted by San Diego State University, took place this week, and I talked post-event to program director Eric Rasmussen (at right during the event), an MD and Commander in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. The Strong Angel III test scenario involved a global pandemic in combination with cyber attacks that are disabling communications throughout the United States.
Rasmussen pointed to cooperation among civil and military teams, and among tech industry rivals Google, IBM and Microsoft in the development of Sahana, a free, open source disaster management system. Sahana is a Web-based collaboration tool that manages common coordination problems encountered during disasters, ranging from finding missing persons and managing volunteers to tracking camps. Rasmussen said he received a request to deploy Sahana in Beirut.
SSE (Simple Sharing Extensions), developed by Microsoft on top of RSS and OPML for bi-directional, asynchronous replication, was integrated across all phases of information collection, analysis and dissemination, including six GIS vendors and several small device vendors, Rasmussen said.
"As medical director, I was asked about an epidemiological collection form," Rasmussen said. "I told them what data and fields, and they wrote it into form, put it on a PDA, which send data to a collection of software that wrote to a suite of GIS applications from six different vendors and plotted the data on maps. They did it in about four hours. Some argued that the work done in four hours would have taken two years with conventional [development] methods."
Other facets of Strong Angel III included efforts to disseminate information from a central authority to the population and receive back input from citizen journalists. The goal is to communicate more effectively in hopes of reducing the possibility of social unrest, Rasmussen said. Internews, an NGO focused on training journalists and media professionals; supporting independent radio and TV stations; promoting liberalized telecommunications policies; supporting fair media laws and policies and facilitating improved health and conflict reporting, contributed expertise.
In addition, the messaging infrastructure was capable of sending messages to email-enabled mobile devices, SpotWatches (from Microsoft) and text messaging cell phones simultaneously and with synthesized voice. "I received a message silently on my SpotWatch that the deputy assistant secretary of defence was coming into the gate," Rasmussen said. He praised Bell Canada for its disaster response networking capabilities and highlighted an inflatable beach ball device (pictured below) from GATR that is a quick deploy satellite communications antenna. Also, language translation technology from Virage proved successful in taking real-time spoken Russian and Arabic from live video feeds--in the scenario, live videos of people at border crossings--and converting it into translated texts written in English.
Rasmussen describes the goal of Strong Angel III as establishing "a model of community resilience in the face of adversity." With so many natural and man-made disasters around the world, the lessons from Strong Angel can go a long way toward lessening the damage and alleviating some of the hardships in recovering from those catastrophes.