Interagency Experiment Prepares for Crises
By Navy Petty 2nd Class Katrina Parker
Special to American Forces Press Service
SUFFOLK, Va., July 30, 2009 U.S. Joint Forces Command and its partners, including the Department of Homeland Security, have completed an experiment designed to enhance national security by providing joint force commanders with a better capability to share information with interagency, multinational and nongovernment agencies during crisis operations.
During the Interagency Shared Situational Awareness Limited Objective Experiment, Joint Forces Command’s joint concept development and experimentation directorate conducted a series of experiments last week to address standards, policies and procedures involving sharing of information over a wide area.
"What we are trying to do here is create an environment and come up with a concept of operations that will enable seamless information sharing between [the Defense Department and] interagency and multinational partners," said Navy Cmdr. Chad Hixson, the project lead. "Often times, there are policies and procedures that stand in the way of doing that."
Hixson said that even when leadership is willing to share information with agencies, the people who actually are sitting at the desk might misunderstand existing policies or be impeded by barriers limiting trust between the organizations, thus interfering with information sharing. The experiment identified policies, procedures, cultural and trust issues that can block information sharing, Hixson said.
Participants included the Joint Staff, National Guard Bureau, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, the State Department, the Virginia Emergency Operations Center and the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
"All the key players in national security are represented," said Navy Capt. Timothy Spratto, the experimentation directorate’s capabilities solutions group lead. "There is a large coalition of the willing coalescing around this experiment to explore their information-sharing techniques."
Spratto said such operations and experiments build trust among participants by providing first-hand experience in the value of sharing information with partners while achieving their own objectives.
"This experiment is a great opportunity for those organizations to get together and look at the policies and procedures that impede information sharing," said Navy Cmdr. Gregory Sleppy, Joint Staff action officer and observer. "Each organization and department has their own rules on how they share things, and those rules are not always the same. We are trying to figure out what those things are that impede the progress and flow of information."
Sleppy cited problems in 2005’s Hurricane Katrina response as an example of the need to share information between agencies and government to support the people involved with the disaster relief effort.
"People may not realize that right now those organizations do not operate on the same network and cannot share information effectively," Sleppy said. "There is no common depository or situational awareness between those organizations. As a decision maker, it is difficult to make good decisions without all the information. This experiment pulls all those organizations together down to the tactical level to see how we might come up with solutions for the future."
The interagency shared situational awareness experiment focused on three areas of information sharing: geospatial, file sharing and text chat. It used computer models and long-distance virtual connections that provided participants with a continuously evolving environment to simulate a crisis.
"All the agencies who participated saw an immediate improvement in their ability to share and receive information and build better situational awareness," Spratto said.
An analysis of the information gathered will determine the value of taking this new approach of information sharing into the field, he added. "We will determine if what we have accomplished is an improvement on existing information sharing architectures, methodologies, policies and processes," Spratto said. "If there is something we can deliver directly to present operators now to put into use immediately, we will look to move that into theater."
(Navy Petty 2nd Class Katrina Parker serves in the U.S. Joint Forces Command public affairs office.)