In January, Commander, Carrier Strike Group Two (CCSG-2) deployed quickly to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba, with follow-on movement to Haiti in support of Operation Unified Response (OUR) when Haiti experienced unprecedented destruction caused by the Jan. 12, 2010, 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated its capital city, Port-au-Prince.
Non-governmental organizations, U.S. military, government agencies, coalition partners and various other groups quickly responded to provide much needed relief. But challenges occurred immediately when the various disparate organizations tried to share information to coordinate and synchronize relief efforts.
The challenge CCSG-2 faced was deciding which network would work best to exchange information between the Navy and other organizations providing assistance. It was important to select a Web system that would ensure a seamless flow of information to everyone involved in the relief operations.
The Collaboration at Sea integrated Web-based management system on SIPRNET is normally used for strike group operations. However, this wasn't a typical strike group operation. The audience and partners for information sharing would go well beyond Navy units for the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission (HA/DR). Support would also be needed for other government agencies that work mostly on unclassified sites, and for NGOs who do not have access to the .mil and .gov domains.
Determining the target audience for information sharing proved to be key to CCSG-2's success. In this case, CCSG-2 had to consider both the military audience and the NGOs, such as Global Aid Network and United Charities International. Several options were considered, including the InRelief Web portal and All Partners Access Network (APAN), as well as various Navy-sponsored portal sites.
CCSG-2's first contact for assistance was with the InRelief Web portal team. The InRelief team established a portal page for posting content that provided collaboration tools needed to work with government and NGOs alike. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, initial testing determined the tool was not flexible enough to meet CCSG-2's needs, nor was the setup mature enough to allow a knowledge manager (KM) the functionality to quickly and easily manipulate the format and structure of the site without the need for reach-back support which was not feasible due to limited bandwidth.
The reach-back requirement was one of the biggest concerns. The tool allowed for Web gadgets, which are mini-applications, and file repositories to be added to the main part of the site, but it didn't allow changes to the sidebars, header and other areas of the page.
Based on lessons learned from relief operations following Hurricane Katrina, it was likely that operational requirements would change quickly and frequently; thus, functionality resident with KM boots on the ground was essential.
After working with the U.S. Second Fleet public affairs officer and KM, it was determined that CCSG-2 would put this site in its back pocket for future analysis and use. It was then that CCSG-2 learned that U.S. Fourth Fleet was using the APAN as its collaboration tool of choice.
Last minute notification about APAN failed to provide CCSG-2 with enough time to review the networking tool prior to arriving in Haiti so CCSG-2 departed Norfolk, Va., without a collaboration site. An account was established on APAN upon arriving in GTMO. However, after reviewing the site, it was determined that for military operations this would not be a good place to post CCSG-2's unclassified, but sensitive documents, like daily situation reports and battle rhythms.
APAN site users were mainly NGOs and citizens of all nations who blogged and posted personal accounts of their experiences on the ground. NGOs used APAN to coordinate relief operations. But a place was needed to post unclassified but sensitive documents for U.S. military components to access and push/pull data as needed.
While in GTMO, Combined Task Force 48 (CTF 48), the Joint Logistics Hub, which tracked all material and personnel going to Haiti via air and sea, was established. Once established, search began for a network site. These efforts were hampered temporarily due to having to relocate to another part of the island a few days after arriving. After reestablishing the command center, a search for commercial sites and military portals resumed.
In the final analysis, it was decided to use the U.S. Southern Command headquarters' Sharepoint portal as CCSG-2's host. This was the most logical choice because USSOUTHCOM's portal hosted the Joint Task Force (JTF) Haiti commander and already contained numerous important documents.
USSOUTHCOM's Sharepoint portal is a Common Access Card (CAC)-enabled site that allowed for posting of unclassified but sensitive operational data, and it hosted links to both the APAN and InRelief sites used by the NGOs. Unfortunately, users must have a CAC to access the site which left most NGOs without access.
After several days of analysis and posting documents, determining the command battle rhythm, and beginning to break down the various processes leading to command decisions, CCSG-2 leadership departed for Haiti with a few staff members. The remainder of the staff stayed in GTMO until personnel reliefs arrived before proceeding to Haiti.
CCSG-2 became the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander (JFMCC)/CTF 41 after arriving in Haiti. A Combined Task Group 41 and CTF 48 portal presence was created on the USSOUTHCOM portal. Professional webmasters assigned to the USSOUTHCOM Theater Network Control Center were extremely helpful in establishing this additional site. They went out of their way to help the JFMCC get reestablished quickly to begin posting critical operational documents to the JFMCC site.
Strong coordination had to take place between the JFMCC, JTF Haiti command cells and USSOUTHCOM personnel to ensure that the appropriate data were being published in a timely manner to be relevant to operations.
Careful analysis of the data posted ensured that information wasn't duplicated. An update to operational tasking (OPTASK) information management (IM) was submitted to include JFMCC's portal site so that all of the operational participants knew where to find posted data.
As operations continued, a knowledge management working group developed between personnel at USSOUTHCOM and JTF Haiti. Through these working groups, there was much discussion about the use of APAN as the primary collaboration tool. Much of the roadblock to its use is the fact that it is open to everyone, and there is currently no means available to post "For Official Use Only" documents. Without a foreign disclosure officer present, it took a great deal of time for the disclosure process so that documents could be posted for the use of NGOs.
There was also much discussion about who the customer base was during this operation and the relevant information needed for their usage. JTF Haiti used APAN as a secondary means of posting data and providing important links to other collaboration sites. Almost two months into the operation, JTF Haiti made the JTF Haiti-APAN portal the default Web page on its network browser in an attempt to get troops to become more familiar with it.
Maintaining a presence on an operational portal with releasable data available to a public NGO portal would be the ultimate choice for success during HA/DR missions. Ensuring the two are linked, so that individuals who need the data can get to it easily and efficiently, will help facilitate its use. When multiple organizations try to establish separate portals it creates confusion as to where to find dataand increases the chances of multiple postings with no version control.
To the maximum extent possible, if forced to use multiple portals for "need to know" issues, organizations should try to link features and functions from one to the other, but keep one authoritative repository for specific information and ensure those business rules are codified in the OPTASK IM. If there is not a required feature present on the portal an organization is using, rather than bringing in yet another portal, the organization should try to pull that feature in through links, feeds or Web parts.
Knowledge management operations were certainly a challenge for KMs at the task force and subordinate levels. Natural disasters can occur at any time in any area of responsibility requiring immediate HA/DR response. Being flexible enough to work around obstacles to communications is invaluable for meeting mission needs and ensuring success.
Cmdr. Rod Burley is the N6A/KM for Commander, Carrier Strike Group Two.