IT touted at TIDES tour

Pentagon highlights IT for disaster response

The Pentagon showcased a range of technologies today used to manage the consequences of natural disasters and other events that displace people, in an exhibition titled Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support (TIDES).

Project advocate Linton Wells, a distinguished research fellow at National Defense University, said the TIDES coalition is now using geospatial technology to analyze and help ameliorate the consequences of the recent cyclone catastrophe in Bangladesh.

'We are trying to get current imagery of Bangladesh to predict where cholera will break out,' Wells said.

The TIDES project covers many technologies that have been developed to help manage the consequences of natural and man-made disasters. The technologies cover the provision of refugee and human support in the areas of shelter, food, water, power, sanitation and other necessities of life, Wells said.

Information technology is an essential support for several aspects of refugees' survival needs, according to technology experts who displayed various systems at a demonstration site set up at the Pentagon. Technology serves as an enabler of all the other services refugees need, participants said.

Army Col. Paul Bartone, a senior research fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, cited the importance of telecommunications to the well-being of displaced people. Refugees' ability to contact or find relatives can help ease the stress they experience, said Bartone, who holds a doctorate in psychology.

He made his remarks in front of a display of telecom equipment from SeaMobile Enterprises of Miramar, Fla. The company's exhibit featured a satellite earth station and associated switching equipment to provide connectivity that could support as many as 50 groups of people, each roughly the size of an Army company.

Wells emphasized that TIDES is a voluntary alliance of corporations, nonprofit organizations, civilian agencies and military units that provide refugee services. It does not have a corporate vehicle, he said, and it lacks a global network. Such a network might give disaster relief organizations and agencies a means of communicating and a reservoir of data about the assets available in any given region that would facilitate disaster response, he said.

Wells said some TIDES participants have discussed such a network, but no plan is under way to develop it.

The Navy, however, is not delaying the process of developing a global disaster response telecom network, said William Harrington, vice president of advanced programs at SeaMobile.

The company provides dozens of cruise ships and other facilities with mobile satellite connectivity.

He said the offshore oil industry has built a network that provides connectivity for various purposes, including telemedicine for injured or ill workers.

SeaMobile provides satellite connectivity systems to the Navy and the Homeland Security Department's Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others, he said. The systems transmit in the Ku-band or C-band spectrum -- the same allocations that TV stations use.

'We can set up and support a [mobile satellite station] like this in 20 minutes,' Harrington said. The company's TIDES installation included a satellite dish and telecom switch -- all of which fit into three containers that were each the size of a large footlocker.

The Navy's disaster response network does not yet appear to have the oomph that a full-fledged IP network devoted to disasters and accessible to all the agencies that deal with them might have.

But disaster response organizations worldwide seek to capture the experience gained from disaster response operations and use it to hone the response to future events, Wells said.

Mac Nachlas, federal business development executive at PacStar of Portland, Ore., displayed a telecom switch and associated satellite that provided telephone, wireless telephone and other telecom services to the various temporary buildings that the TIDES participants had built.

TIDES leaders 'did not provide a plan for us [telecommunications and electricity providers] to set up a network,' Nachlas said. 'They just told us to do it.'

'In a matter of hours, we established connectivity among all the various sites in the village,' Nachlas said. His comments reflected Wells' rejection of hierarchical enterprise architectures for managing disaster relief operations.

Wells said such hierarchies create silos that hinder information exchange.

The TIDES village included demonstrations of other technologies, such as geospatial tools and advanced mobile photoelectric panels manufactured by SkyBuilt Power of Arlington, Va.

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