Can a social networking site save lives?
Can it guide rescue teams to a precise location in Port-au-Prince, Haiti thirteen days after a devastating earthquake shakes the city, and rescue survivors?
Posts by users of APAN (All Partners Access Network) on January 25, 2010 indicated reports of calls for help coming from beneath the rubble at a local market. Within 30 minutes a reply was posted on the site with information on the location of a survivor who had been communicating via SMS. The flow of information via the threads posted on APAN led rescue teams to the market, where they were able to find survivors.
In another example of the versatility and rapid response capabilities of the networking site, at the height of disaster relief operations in Haiti, a request for assistance was submitted to APAN by a non-governmental organization in need of 150 tents. Within an hour, a reply was posted indicating that the United States government aid agency, USAID, would be able to assist. Additional posts informed the team that another non-governmental organization stationed nearby had 10 tents available.
APAN, a United Stated Department of Defense social networking site, was originally established for the Asia-Pacific region and was successfully used as a vital coordination tool for disaster relief operations during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Previously known as the Asia Pacific Area Network, APAN rapidly evolved into a global site hosting multiple communities and an ever-expanding number of members.
APAN today is a platform that connects people and information via a virtual workspace to foster information sharing that reaches across organizational and geographic boundaries. In essence, the site hosts a community of communities.
“In the same way that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter revolutionized the way people communicate with one another, APAN is revolutionizing the way we share information with our interagency partners, NGOs, and even with private businesses that join with us to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Sharing this information with Partner Nations is a logical next step,” said General Douglas Fraser, Commander, U.S. Southern Command.
This web 2.0 service combines the benefits of unstructured collaboration (wikis, blogs, and forums) and structured collaboration (file sharing, calendar) with the personalization of social networking. As a community of communities, the operational concept is group centric — users join groups or communities of interest in order to observe, participate and/or collaborate. Groups or communities of interest can be geo-centric or issue specific, while users can leverage APAN’s social networking environment to form contacts that cut across the original communities to create new groups of interest.
Since its creation, APAN has been an increasingly popular networking tool used by international organizations, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and individuals. Some of the areas of interest hosted by APAN include world health issues, environmental concerns, support to civil authorities/law enforcement, conflict resolution, illicit trafficking, security during major events such as the World Cup or the Olympics, and preparation for training and exercises.
The APAN platform allows group members to post articles, participate in live discussions and build relationships based on their common interests. The platform facilitates research by providing a data base search method using key words to gain access to content, information and people. The search capabilities can pinpoint the type of expert help or information required to get you in touch with the right people — in the right place and at the right time. For example, if you are looking for an “engineering expert” in Panama, key words like profession, country and language will help you find the right person to assist you on your chosen topic.
Other tools like three-dimensional maps, group calendars, multi-lingual chat sites with embedded translation features and discussion forums, make APAN a vibrant hub of information sharing that spans organizations and boundaries. APAN is particularly useful for sharing knowledge and contacts for conferences, events, training and exercise missions, in addition to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
The United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), a member of the APAN family, is expanding the functions of APAN to provide more technical support and training for APAN users, in order to increase information sharing among participants who are interested in working alongside the United States Southern Command and among each other. USSOUTHCOM utilizes APAN’s facilities particularly for humanitarian assistance operations and deployments, environmental security, maritime domain awareness, training and exercises.
“As USSOUTHCOM moved forward to support disaster relief efforts in Haiti, we found that APAN became an invaluable tool for coordinating with many of our interagency and NGO partners,” added General Fraser.
Currently, the site hosts over 300 communities from around the world, but the membership rate is expanding quickly due to APAN’s easy, safe, reliable and free access to information and networking. APAN is currently the best way to network and access information available online to communities of interest around the world: a one-stop site for the ever-expanding and innovative networking connections of the future.
For more information on APAN, visit http://community.apan.org