APAN: A Vital Connection

Users of the social-networking site guided rescuers to earthquake victims in Haiti
WRITER-ID | 1 July 2010

On January 25, 2010, posts to the social-networking site APAN, or All Partners Access Network, reported calls for help coming from beneath the rubble of a market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 13 days after a devastating earthquake. Within 30 minutes, a reply was posted on the site with the precise location of a survivor who had been com-municating via SMS. The flow of information via the threads posted on APAN led rescue teams to the market, where they were able to find and rescue survivors.

In another example of the versatility and rapid response capabili- ties of the networking site, a nongovernmental organization in need of 150 tents submitted its request via APAN at the height of disaster relief operations in Haiti. Within an hour, a reply was posted indicating that the U.S. Agency for International Development would be able to assist. Additional posts informed the team that another non- governmental organization stationed nearby had 10 tents available.

APAN, a U.S. 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 connects people and information via a virtual workspace to foster information sharing across organizational and geographic boundaries. In essence, the site hosts a community of communities.

Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, or USSOUTHCOM, noted how the technology is helping agencies work together more efficiently and reach more of those in need.

“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,” he said. “Sharing this information with partner nations is a logical next step.”

This web 2.0 service combines the benefits of unstructured col- laboration (wikis, blogs and forums) and structured collaboration (file sharing and calendars) with the personalization of social networking. As a community of communities, the operational concept is group-centric — users join groups or communities of interest to observe, participate and/or collaborate.

The APAN platform allows group members to post articles, participate in live discussions and build relationships based on their common interests. Groups or communities of interest can be geocentric or issue specific, and 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, nongovernmental organizations and individuals. Some of the areas of interest hosted by APAN include world health issues, environmental concerns, support to civil authorities/law enforce- ment, conflict resolution, illicit trafficking, security during major events such as the World Cup or the Olympics, and preparation for training and exercises.

The platform facilitates research by providing a database 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 a user is looking for an engineering expert in Panama, key words including profession, country and language will help him or her find the right person.

Other tools such as three-dimensional maps, group calendars, multilingual chat sites with embedded translation features and discussion forums make APAN a vibrant hub of information sharing that spans organizations and geographic boundaries. APAN is par- ticularly useful for sharing knowledge and contacts for conferences, events, training and exercise missions, in addition to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

As a member of the APAN family, USSOUTHCOM is expanding the functions of APAN to provide more technical support and training for users. The goal is to increase information sharing among participants who are interested in working alongside the command.

USSOUTHCOM utilizes APAN 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,” Gen. Fraser said.

Currently, the site hosts more than 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 a one-stop site for the ever-expanding and innovative networking connections of the future.

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