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ODU-Affiliated Civil-Military Fusion Center Helping With Information Coordination in Haiti Earthquake Disaster Response

With the ongoing crisis in Haiti dominating the world's attention and compassion, an office located at Old Dominion University -- specializing in high-level facilitation of communication between civilian and military groups in times of crisis -- is doing what it can to help.

NATO Allied Command Transformation's (ACT) Civil-Military Fusion Center (CFC) is tapping into its network of contacts with international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), businesses, and national and international military personnel to help with information compiling, synthesis and sharing - a vital component of any disaster relief effort.

The CFC office, which opened at Innovation Research Park @ Old Dominion University in February 2009, is a local effort creating an environment where information can flow freely between civilian and military groups working on complex crises.

Stuart Kefford, a CFC Knowledge Manager (KM) with extensive NGO experience, said more than 1,500 non-military personnel are on the ground in Haiti right now, representing hundreds of different organizations, engaged in tasks as diverse as search and rescue, distribution of food and water, and restoring of critical infrastructure on the Caribbean island.

"These relief efforts, being so complex and multi-faceted, aren't always the strongest at managing information," said Kefford, who came to Norfolk after working throughout the developing world. Kefford said groups such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) do a "first-class" job trying to keep all the various agencies working toward the same goal.

"It's important to try and make sure you're not duplicating effort, or leaving an important task unfinished. That's where the sharing of information is vital," he said.

The KMs are also monitoring the results of needs assessments being done by several organizations involved in the relief effort, to see if they can help form linkages between groups that need tasks done, and groups that have goods or services to contribute.

The CFC is structured to act as a clearinghouse of sorts -- gathering, analyzing, editing, assembling and disseminating information that can be utilized on the ground in "hot zones" such as Afghanistan and North East Africa, and sharing that information through a Web site portal known as the "Civil-Military Overview (CMO)."

The organization is structured to support responses to complex, ongoing crises such as Afghanistan, and natural disasters, knowing that supporting "boots on the ground" is the most important task they address during day-to-day operations.

The CFC is contributing to the efforts in the Haiti earthquake response through functional and geographical representations.

It's functional, because the Haiti "page" covers the full range of relief efforts under a comprehensive civil-military approach to crisis response, through presentation of real time information and points of contact details.

It's also geographical, with the Haiti page providing hyperlinks to the most up-to-date maps, graphics and charts available on the Internet from the international community.

Lt. Gen. James N. Soligan, USAF (Ret), Deputy Chief of Staff - Transformation (pictured right), said the center helps address the monumental challenge of coordinating and aligning relief efforts by overcoming a lack of information sharing capacity.

"A tool like this allows everyone to input and pull out the appropriate information that then enhances a common understanding of both where the requirements are and where capabilities can be best used," Soligan said.

"If you think about a Craigslist-type scenario -- where people can post requirements and then folks who are interested and have capabilities to be able to match up can then go through that list of requirements and find out where they're needed best -- you can understand the power of this networking capacity."

Part of the reason the CFC office was located on the campus of Old Dominion University was to take advantage of the opportunity for collaboration with ODU's faculty and students in the Graduate Program for International Studies (GPIS) and related disciplines.

"The Civil-Military Fusion Center and ODU have established a professional academic and practical working environment where GPIS student interns, military personnel and civilian Knowledge Managers can share their experiences, gain new understandings in civil-military relations and ultimately assist in efforts to support the management of real-world crises," said Lt. Col Mike Hendrigan, director of the CFC.

"The Civil-Military Fusion Center is pleased to have the support of ODU and its facilities, and we look forward to developing the relationship with GPIS and the University in the year ahead."

And in fact, five current and former students work at the CFC, either as interns or staff members. Intern Guelmbaye Ngarsandje, a GPIS master's student and Fulbright Scholar, is actively working on the Haiti file.

Other employees with ODU connections include Chief Knowledge Manager Tony Icayan (pictured left), GPIS MA; Knowledge Manager Matt Hall, GPIS Ph.D; and Britta Rhinehard, GPIS MA; and also includes current GPIS MA Ryan Roberts.

For information about the Civil-Military Fusion Center response to the earthquake in Haiti, visit https://www.cimicweb.org/Pages/Haiti.aspx.

This article was posted on: January 22, 2010

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