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Not a Competition

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2006-09-11 Print this article Print

At Strong Angel III—a sort of humanitarian war games held last month in San Diego—vendors like Microsoft and Google set aside competitive instincts to piece together a $35 million computer network for aid workers responding to a disaster. One sc

'Not a Competition'">

'Not a Competition'

At Strong Angel III, SSE was used as the integration "glue" to unite a number of systems, including handheld computers being used for data gathering, a Web portal running on open-source technologies—Linux, Apache and the Drupal content management system—and mapping software from Microsoft, Google and ESRI.

"Not only did we cross the civil/military boundary, but it was really cool to see the Microsoft team and the Google team working side by side," Kirkpatrick says. "And it did work—we now have some tools we both have in our back pockets to integrate our systems." "We enjoyed every minute of it," Phil Dixon, Department of Defense manager for Google's enterprise unit and the leader of Google's delegation, says of the time his team spent working with Microsoft. "We set aside what we do in the marketplace, which is compete, understanding that this was not a trade show, this was not a competition."

Rasmussen says he told all the vendors in advance not to treat this as some kind of technology bake-off. Instead, he told them, "We want to see how you can make your world-renowned stuff work with everyone else's."

Another open-source system that was put through its paces at Strong Angel III was Sahana, a Web-based disaster management system originally developed for use in Sri Lanka after the tsunami. Chamindra de Silva, the Sahana project lead, said his participation was valuable for both the connections he made and some code modules that were developed during the event that will improve Sahana's support for public-health emergencies such as a pandemic.

This was the best Strong Angel exercise to date, according to Rasmussen, partly because "we're asking better questions" with each iteration but also because more military units participated this time, showing an increased recognition of the importance of humanitarian operations. "I feel a greater sense of progress this time around," he says.

"I think this is one of the most transformational things the Department of Defense has been involved with in years," agrees Linton Wells II, the assistant secretary of defense in charge of networks and integration, and the project's sponsor.

In addition to sponsoring the Strong Angel exercises, Wells says that the DOD has changed official military doctrine to recognize the importance of humanitarian aid and the goodwill it can bring, while changing its systems to promote better information sharing.

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.
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