With the emergence of social media and other 21st century web innovations, crisis response actors across the globe continue to ponder how best to leverage such tools to improve multi-national response to those events.
Military and defense organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean are looking at social media as a tool to better share information and improve coordination prior to and during crisis operations.
Among those, the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), an international committee of nationally appointed defense officials who develop collaborative approaches on common defense and security issues facing countries in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, has taken the reigns of a regional effort to discover means to dramatically enhance military to military information sharing during crisis response operations.
Towards achieving this goal, in the first quarter of the year, the IADB led the 2012 Humanitarian Allied Forces (FAHUM) exercise in Washington, D.C., to clearly demonstrate the transformational possibilities of web-enabled technologies when incorporated into knowledge management operational processes. The technology of choice was the All Partners Access Network (APAN), a U.S. Department of Defense social-networking site that was successfully utilized during the height of disaster relief operations for Haiti in 2010. APAN connects people and information through communities of interest providing virtual workspaces to facilitate information sharing across organizational and geographic boundaries.
The annual FAHUM exercise, sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), focuses on improving the way civilian, government and military agencies from the region respond to natural disasters. Traditionally, it is executed before the start of the Atlantic hurricane season to allow participants to sharpen their skills and exchange information on crisis response operations.
The 2012 edition included a new capability in the form of a web-based social media tool that allows participants to share the information available. Though FAHUM 2012 remained true to its capacity building roots, it was executed with a 21st century twist. Planners from the IADB, SOUTHCOM and the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS) designed an exercise concept that harnessed web-based information sharing tools to dramatically enhance shared awareness among all military responders.
Through a series of virtual Table Top Exercises (TTXs), this year’s participants practiced employing SOUTHCOM’s APAN to achieve enhanced military to military information sharing.
FAHUM 2012 was a prominent example of how regional militaries can harness web-based tools such as APAN to deliver life-saving services to affected populations. It included participants from El Salvador’s Ministry of Defense, Department of Public Safety, National Emergency Response offices, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Organization of American States, Pan-American Health Organization, and IADB representatives from over 20 other countries in the Western Hemisphere.
A pre-exercise, hosted by the CHDS at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., offered an opportunity for participants to discuss challenges and opportunities related to disaster relief scenarios with a focus on how the IADB can serve as an information broker for the militaries of the region. The follow on TTX tested the IADB’s information sharing concept by having delegates, and other regional crisis response stakeholders use APAN to respond to a fictitious earthquake in El Salvador. Several geographically dispersed groups representing military entities and relief organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Pan-American Health Organization, responded to the evolving scenario via their respective APAN accounts.
Colonel Matthew Anderson, director of the Secretariat of Advisory Services at the IADB, highlighted the IADB’s gratitude to El Salvador and other member states for their support of FAHUM-12 and the IADB HA Exercise II. “The exercise provided the IADB with a unique opportunity to test military information exchange at the hemispheric level, and provided valuable information to improve networks and allow the secretariat to be more responsive to member states’ requirements.”
During the exercise, the IADB-operated a Crisis Operations Situation Room and used the APAN group to publish and manage the flow of information keeping all stakeholders informed of crisis response requirements.
With the successful execution of FAHUM, the vision of a more integrated and efficient military to military information sharing capability is a step closer to becoming a reality. Such multi-national efforts will yield long-term tangible payoffs to include saved lives and the rapid return to normalcy for distressed populations in the region.
*Oliver Barrett, Partnering Directorate, SOUTHCOM, contributed to this article.