Documenting the Inaugural for the Future
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 1997 When preparing for the present or the future, one often draws information from the past. History helps guide people through trouble spots, finds common ground and prepares better ways to meet current challenges.
The Armed Forces Inaugural Committee preparing for President Clinton's second inauguration Jan. 20 is learning from the past and hoping to spare those who will follow.
In planning this year's ceremonies, committee members found themselves wading through an obsolete archival past. Planners had to sift through files, reports and photographs stored four years ago in dozens of military footlockers.
Army Capt. Jonathan Mundt, the committee's computer operations officer said most workers used computers during the last inaugural and saved as much as possible on disk. However, he said, trying to read those files now posed problems.
"It's a frightening thought when you realize that the last committee had the best equipment and software available to them -- equipment now almost obsolete," Mundt said.
One early problem was all the 1993 committee documentation. Although officials saved much of their plans on computer disk, they also kept photos, slides, view graphs, handwritten notes and videotapes. The 1993 committee stored all of this in a slew of footlockers -- lockers rarely opened during the past four years.
"Call it information overload if you want, but many running the inaugural last time felt any information that might possibly be helpful in running the 1997 event must be kept," said Mundt. "What that meant, however, was tons of information that we've had to weed through in order to see what was done."
Mundt, who arrived for duty nearly a year ago, said a good part of his first weeks was simply, "Sharing information seemed to be the biggest problem. Some reports filed by one section also affected how others worked," he said. "We'd pull those folders and make copies to provide to those who also needed the notes in their planning."
Another problem was retrieving information recorded electronically. "Most of the computer disks they used four years ago were 5 1/4 inch floppy disks -- the type used in most 286 computers," said Mundt. "Most computers today are Pentiums using 3 1/2 inch disk drives -- many of those don't have 5 1/4 inch drives." He said it forced the committee to search for older machines just to download information.
In 1992, committee agencies prepared their reports using word processing programs that varied with the users and their individual computers.
"Some documents were stored in WordPerfect, some in Microsoft Word, and others in programs we no longer use," said Mundt. "We had to convert all this information into something we could read before we could begin our support."
To battle those problems and make things easier for the next inaugural, the committee took the early steps of adopting one set of computer programs and of reducing historical files into something more manageable. Instead of heavy footlockers filled with paper files and notes, Mundt said he hopes to store the entire inaugural support record on 24 to 30 compact disks.
The disks will contain the charts, slides and after-action reports of the 1997 inaugural as well as sound and video tracks, digital photographs and maps produced by all agencies working the inaugural. "We want to make a package of CDs that tells the next committee how we handled 1997 and do so in a format still usable four years down the road," said Mundt.
From a technology side, the committee again has the best equipment available. Nearly all committee computers are new. Through networking, agencies throughout the committee share information and documents, prepare correspondence and release information via electronic mail and through the committee's World Wide Web site (www.dtic.mil/afic).
To use this equipment properly, committee members established standards and formats, then trained their personnel.
From June until November, Bretton and four other military computer specialists conducted training sessions for all members documenting military inaugural duty.Bretton said she'd awarded over 700 training certificates by late December.
Once training ended, Bretton and her staff became the committee's "help desk," providing information for computer users with questions on networking, applications and problems.
In events leading to the inaugural, committee directorates are keeping electronic records, notes and files on every aspect of their staff activities. Once the inaugural concludes, those directorates must condense that information into after-action reports.
"There was this belief four years ago that any scrap of paper that contained [inaugural] information was important to keep, and that's why we had tons of footlockers with handwritten notes," Mundt said. "Notes are important, but staff heads must decide which notes are important enough to put on the CDs and which to pitch."
Once directorates complete written reports, Mundt's section will begin consolidating and preparing the data for compact discs. He said since the network connects all agencies, directorate chiefs will be able to drop their reports into a shared drive.
"From there, we can consolidate reports, begin formatting them to CDs and add other items to help enhance the overall report," said Mundt. Those items include adding videotape and still images from the committee's visual information center. Over 30 active duty and reserve component photographers joined the committee in late December to document all aspects of the inaugural, ranging from the military support missions to the actual inaugural ceremony.
While those running the next inaugural may still have problems accessing reports, Mundt said he believes the technology they're using now will still be around in four years. "But there is no way you can predict the future in this [computer] business," he said. "Things are changing too fast for everyone to keep pace. What we can do, however, is make it easier for them to see what we've done and continue toward their own mission."