Project Aims to Help War-torn Nations
By John Ohab
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2009 A National Defense University research project is leveraging talent and resources from within and outside the military to support people in need worldwide, a former Defense Department chief information officer said.
The project, Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support, or TIDES, works with the military, government and private groups to bring basic services to people in Afghanistan and other places struggling from war and poverty, said Linton Wells II, a professor and force transformation chair at the National Defense University.
“TIDES is an effort to bring together public-private, whole-of-government and transnational talent in order to address problems in stressed populations,” Wells said during an Aug. 12 webcast of “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” on Pentagon Web Radio.
TIDES operates by providing fast, agile and effective solutions to areas stressed by seven key infrastructure needs: shelter; water; power; integrated combustion and solar cooking; cooling, lighting and heating; sanitation; and information and communications technology.
Collectively, TIDES is building a repository of these products, as well as best practices and approaches that can support decision-makers, Wells said.
“The idea is to connect the people with solutions with people who have problems,” he said.
Wells described TIDES as building toward a decentralized “starfish network,” in which various people and groups can draw upon collective knowledge and apply it to their specific situations. The project is coordinated by NDU’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy, but participants span all branches of business, government and private groups from around the world.
“The idea is to put together a broad coalition that can work with any one of the different communities,” Wells said. “They can talk the civilian language, the military language, and talk to academia to get as broad as possible coalition and decentralize the management.”
Wells, a former acting assistant secretary and Defense Department chief information officer, said he embraced the opportunity to address “cross-cutting issues” and find ways to achieve unity of action in situations where there is no unity of command. The department plays a critical role by extending the military’s ability to interoperate with civilians during difficult situations, and by identifying economic, low-cost solutions and more sources of supplies, he said.
TIDES works with both foreign and domestic people, with or without military involvement, and for short- or long-term operations, Wells said. On the international front, TIDES participants are working in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, investigating how information and communications technology can be leveraged along with renewable energy to help remote Afghan villages. In Latin America, TIDES is working with U.S. Southern Command to support emergency first responders. The differences in those two projects underscores the need for participants with varied talents, he said.
“If the average stay in a refugee camp is more than seven years, which it is, that’s a qualitatively different problem than the first 60 days after an earthquake,” Wells said. “You need different skills sets, different people, and different sources of funds.”
Wells was particularly excited about the ability to use Web 2.0 and other technologies to provide rapid solutions. Last week, TIDES participants combined maps and other images with mobile text messaging and Twitter feeds to create a near real-time situational awareness tool.
“Ten days from the time companies, [nongovernmental organizations], government and academia got together, there were workable versions of the code being used in Afghanistan,” Wells said. “That’s really exciting.”
TIDES will hold its 3rd Annual Field Demonstration at the National Defense University campus at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., Oct. 6 to 9.
(John Ohab works for the Defense Media Activity’s Emerging Media directorate.)