Shared workspaces keep DOD docs in the know

Navy physician Cmdr. Eric Rasmussen and his colleagues at Central Command stay in the loop with Groove Workspace desktop collaboration software.

While offline aboard ships or planes, Navy physician Cmdr. Eric Rasmussen continues working in his Groove Workspace desktop collaboration software.

When he's back online'at Central Command in Tampa, Fla., or anywhere else around the world'his 45 coworkers know it via encrypted instant messages, and any file changes he has made are securely updated, no matter how little bandwidth he has.

'We collect files, images and thoughts with various tools, and we have a discussion area where I can put it all together for collective review,' Rasmussen, medical coordinator for Civil-Military Operations, said in an e-mail from Kuwait.

He uses Groove to oversee publication of a daily assessment of Middle Eastern media and to advise Central Command on the protection and care of noncombatants in potential conflicts.

The collaboration software is a big step forward from what he was using a few years ago, when an operations center at a refugee camp, for example, featured two VHF radios, a pager, Global System for Mobile Communication cell phone, notebook PC and a high-frequency radio in what he called a 'generally austere environment.'

Using Groove with standard software such as Microsoft Office, Windows XP, SharePoint Team Services, Outlook, Messenger and Project, Rasmussen and his coworkers have designed a set of tools for humanitarian support.

Handles many tasks

The tools, developed with advice from international agencies and help from Robert Kirkpatrick at Groove Networks Inc. of Beverly, Mass., can handle incident alerts, casualty reporting, evacuation requests, refugee registration and screening, map annotation and other tasks.

In addition, Rasmussen maintains a library area where each participant'whether a member of a military organization or a civilian relief agency'can read reference materials about how others do business. That reduces surprises and redundancy, 'and we also keep agreements and understandings in a common forum so we can all see where we stand,' Rasmussen said.

He prefers Groove to e-mail in some circumstances because of sensitive medical topics under discussion. The encryption, Rasmussen said, 'is very strong but transparent enough to stay out of the way.'

Also, he said, the distributed nature of the collaboration leaves 'a secure historical record in case something happens. I work in austere environments'warships and refugee camps'so my laptop is always at risk.'

The fact that each participant has an identical record reassures foreign partners 'of our transparency, our confidentiality and our desire to be helpful rather than dominant,' he said.

As both a physician and a Navy officer, Rasmussen said he must honor obligations to patient confidentiality, to collegial cooperation on diagnostic problems and to the need to protect information.

'Most of us recognize that unfettered and reliable communication between citizens is a critical component of a democracy and, for me, Groove helps meet that requirement,' Rasmussen said.

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