Breaking down borders during crisis response

When disaster strikes, horrific images of the damaged environments and upsetting stories of the lives impacted and lost flood media networks across all platforms. We are lucky to live in a world where there are thousands of organizations and their dedicated employees who are among the first to respond to the devastated locations. However, it is important to also note that everyday citizens are also anxious and curious as to how they can help whether on the ground or from a distance. We have seen, disaster after disaster, everyday citizens from around the world coming together to show support through monetary donations, canned food and clothing drives, and even hashtags.

41hB8s8gCIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSuzanne Bernier’s book, Disaster Heroes, captures the incredible journeys of everyday citizens who assist in a crisis situation. Bernier shares the stories of a man in Louisiana raising funds to send a fire truck to replace damaged equipment from 9/11 to a New York City Fire Department in Brooklyn, to a Pennsylvania-based drilling company sharing valuable knowledge and equipment with the 2010 Chilean Mine Collapse effort to extract the 33 trapped miners, to a Hudson River ferry captain acting on his immediate instincts and professional experience to aid in several relief efforts. The book captures an important theme seen amongst both formal and informal actors in crisis response:

 “There are no borders when it comes to disasters. We’re all in this together.”

This mantra is what demonstrates the goodness in our globalized society and I would argue it also illustrates the necessity of cooperation in crisis response. As people from all over the world aim to assist a crisis-impacted community, the borders, whether they are geographical, cultural, functional, or temporal, should not disrupt effective cooperation and instead should foster partnership and support.

What physical or conceptual borders have you experienced that have challenged effective cooperation in the crisis environment?

Revamped Education for Crisis Response

CSER LogoThe Center for Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction (CSER), is announcing a change in name and curriculum for its signature education program for crisis response. CSER is dedicated to creating collaborative education programs for post-conflict and post-disaster responders. Its revamped course, Cooperation in Stability Operations (CSER-CSO), aims to improve cooperation during times of crisis among public, private, military, and volunteer sectors.

Executive Director of CSER Ambassador (Ret.) David C. Litt crafted the name and curriculum changes in response to feedback from program alumni. CSER-CSO, formerly named Logistics Cooperation for Stabilization and Reconstruction (LCSR), will examine cooperation among logisticians and non-logisticians, as well as between relief and recovery responders. The course underscores the importance of effective cooperation along three concurrent continuums:

  • “Functional”:           Strategists-planners-operators-logisticians
  • “Cultural”:               Public/private, civilian/military, domestic/international
  • “Temporal”:           Relief-rehabilitation-reconstruction, or response-recovery

Litt said he has received extremely encouraging feedback regarding the changes.

“Our alumni, from different organizational cultures, have applauded the new dimensions we will explore – namely how strategy, planning, operations, and logistics are inextricably connected, and probing the seam between immediate relief and longer-term recovery. I was grateful that those who had attended LCSR wrote admiringly about that experience as well. They avowed that the combination of old and new will be even more valuable for responders in the future.”

The debut of CSER-CSO will take place April 12-17, 2015 with additional offerings August 23-28, 2015 and December 13-18, 2015. Visit the program website or contact Ms. April McGill, Senior Client Relations Manager, at McGill@IDB.org for more information!

Big Data for National Security

A few weeks ago, during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, the Institute for Defense & Business in conjunction with SAS Institute sponsored a luncheon panel discussion about Analytics and the Future of SOF. They offered me the opportunity to partner with Ambassador (retired) David Litt and Major General (retired) Kevin Leonard, U.S. Army to discuss how analytics can be used as an enabler for SOF operations in austere areas like Africa.

We’ve all heard the hype about “Big Data.” But SO WHAT? It’s generally discussed in the context of marketing, with one of the favored examples being Target identifying which of their customers are pregnant through their buying habits so that they can then send them coupons for diapers. But if you are not trying to sell diapers, you have probably missed out on the conversation, since selling diapers is a far cry from national security.

So instead of discussing “big data,” why don’t we discuss “Predictive Battlespace Awareness” or “Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Space”? These are two topics that are highly relevant to National Security. Funnily enough, both of these discussions lead us right back to big data, analytics, and the subject of last week’s conference, how can analytics be an enabler for SOF in the future.

Predictive Battlespace Awareness is the concept that you can develop a situational awareness picture so rich it enables you to anticipate what will happen so that you can develop course of action to thwart your adversary before they can act. A recent blog on my website discusses agribusiness in Africa as a sample use case. Achieving situational awareness is one element of the decision cycle: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, also known as the OODA-loop.

For years, in all industries, the defense community not withstanding, we’ve been making huge investments into sensor technology to enable the observation phase of our OODA loop. And now we find ourselves overwhelmed with that very same data. We are no longer looking for a needle in a haystack, we are looking for a specific needle in a needlestack, and, as one might expect, it’s pretty painful.

Analytics technologies allow us to explore that data in a way that empowers us to advance our decision cycle through the orientation and decision phases. This means we can act more quickly when opportunities present themselves, respond more rapidly to thwart our adversaries, and anticipate where problems might develop so we can put remedial measures in place ahead of time.

Further, big data analytics capabilities can act as an enabler to collaboration. In an age of complexity, the next operation may require cooperation across multiple nations, non-governmental organizations, and both civilian and military authorities. Big data can facilitate this, even despite the fact that each organization runs on their own siloed system and processes.

In each of these cases, Special Forces will be able to leverage huge amounts of data to develop an intelligence picture of their operating space, collaborate with a coalition of any size and shape, and build the network they need to manage the complexity that is a part of normal operations.

This essentially recaps the discussion between David, Kevin at the discussion panel. Once again, I’d like to thank SAS and the IDB for the opportunity to share ideas. Big data may have us swimming in the ocean, but analytics capabilities offer a huge return on investment, not just for people looking to sell diapers, but for those of you who work in the national security community—in fact, the return on investment from a national security perspective is infinite!


Lt Col Tammy Schwartz, USAF (Ret.)Lt Col Tammy Schwartz, USAF (Ret.) is an IDB guest blogger and recognized innovator with more than 20 years of national security experience. Schwartz is a former Chief Technology Officer for Air Force Enterprise Networking and is currently a Consultant for SAS and the Owner of Llamrai Enterprises. You can read more from Schwartz on her blog.

Shining a Light on Data in Austere Environments

SAS and the Institute for Defense and Business (IDB) co-hosted their third panel discussion May 21st during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference 2014. Retired Ambassador David Litt, head of the Center for Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction (CSER) program at the IDB, moderated the lunchtime discussion entitled, “Supporting SOF Network in Austere Environments: Using Analytics to Prepare, Sustain and Support.” In this discussion, the “austere environment” meant Africa.

The panelists, MG Kevin Leonard, USA (ret.), and Lt Col Tamara Schwartz, USAF (ret.), had interesting perspectives given their different backgrounds, but they reached similar conclusions. While technology, data, and analytics are enablers, it is TRUST, PARTNERSHIP, and COLLABORATION that make it work. The challenge is busting old paradigms and thinking outside the box.

From left to right: AMB (Ret.) David Litt (CSER), MG (Ret.) Kevin Leonard (Fluor), and Lt Col (Ret.) Tamara Schwartz (SAS Consultant) discuss data in austere environments during the May 21st panel sponsored by IDB and SAS

From left to right: AMB (Ret.) David Litt (CSER), MG (Ret.) Kevin Leonard (Fluor), and Lt Col (Ret.) Tamara Schwartz (SAS Consultant) discuss data in austere environments during the May 21st panel sponsored by IDB and SAS. (Institute for Defense and Business Photo by Christine Reynolds)

The Panelists

Leonard knows AUSTERITY and LOGISTICS. During his long career with the Army, he’s been involved in logistics activities in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Iraq – just to mention a few countries. He has supported BIG ARMY and the little Army and is continuing to support contingency operations at Fluor. He knows the challenges of getting supplies over the last mile. He also knows that if Coca Cola can do it, it can be done.

Schwartz is well acquainted with IT and enterprise networks – and supporting SOF. She understands cyberspace – the dangers as well as the great opportunity it provides for data discovery. She also understands how analytics can be used effectively to support the mission.

The Problem

As military operations shift and budget pressures shape the new military, supporting special operations forces when they deploy to austere environments, like Africa, with the speed and agility necessary will be essential. Developing a Common Operating Picture (COP) is challenging in the best of circumstances. How can we get the data that supports a COP in a place like Africa – and fast?

Some Solutions

There is a preconceived notion that there is no data available in the remote areas of Africa. But is that really true? “No!” say our panelists. We just need to start thinking out of the box and take advantage of what’s already there.

  • Open Source Data like population and tribal data, mineral data, water data, and lots more statistical global data is easily available
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) running ongoing programs, such as Doctors without Borders and the Red Cross can provide a wealth of information.
  • OTTWs (Operations Other Than War) – oil and gas companies, mining companies, infrastructure and agribusiness companies, General Electric, Coca Cola. They almost never come into consideration as sources of information, but they have a lot to offer the military. They’ve already paved the way in this space and established their own infrastructure. They all have to have good situational awareness to provide for and protect their employees. They know who’s who and how to deal with local challenges. Is it unthinkable to ask them to partner?
  • Social Media Data – We know what you’re thinking, but hear us out. Much of Africa may be austere, but there are signs of digital life throughout. And wherever there’s a connection, somebody’s tweeting or snapping pictures with their cell phones and communicating information out in cyberspace on just about every human condition – illness, famine, harsh weather conditions. This social data may not be the kind the military traditionally uses to build a COP, but by connecting all the digital dots early warning signals can surface.

The underlying analytic technology keeps getting better and better. It’s more powerful and easier to use. Analysts can access and bring together big data from non-traditional sources. Unstructured data found on the web in in cyberspace can be incorporated into the analysis. Visual analytics lets non-statistical people quickly look at the data to spot trends and correlations. The end result is a more complete, holistic COP that can be built more quickly.

But, to effectively get access to the right data, the importance of partnerships can’t be understated. Trust and collaboration between data owners is imperative. The players supporting SOF in these austere environments need to reach out and build trusted relationships with NGOs, commercial industry and other government agencies. Players also need to build trusted relationships and share data amongst themselves. In this high stakes game, everyone is at risk.


Gail Bamford is an IDB guest blogger and senior marketing professional with over 25 years in information technology. She has been with SAS, the leader in advanced analytics software, since 2006 and supports business units focused on delivering analytic solutions to Defense, National Security, Higher Education and K-12.

Additional Resources:

Download white paper based on SAS-IDB Panel discussion at AUSA 2013, “Data vs. Gut” – “How Analytics Improves Decision Making at the Department of Defense: Finding new ways to add value and insights to big data.”

Read blog on SAS-IDB Panel at Indiana University, “SAS – IDB Defense Panel Serves Up Advice for Analytics Students at Kelley School Business Analytics Summit 2014”

Stability Operations Book Recommendation: Warfront to Storefront by Paul Brinkley

Anyone familiar with or intrigued by the “wicked problems” inherent in stability operations will appreciate Warfront to Storefront, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Paul Brinkley’s new book released in February 2014. Warfront to Storefront chronicles the formation, operation, successes, and failures of the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) from its formation in 2006 with a focus on Iraq through present day activities in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

TFBSO’s central operating premise is that stability is more likely/achievable when the local economy is functioning, jobs are available, and there are legitimate, legal alternatives to taking money from insurgent forces. The story provides an insider’s view of the challenges and triumphs of Brinkley’s team as TFBSO sought to restore Iraq’s industrial base in order to provide employment for the thousands of workers displaced by the shuttering of Iraq’s state owned enterprises after the overthrow of Sadaam Hussein in 2003.

IDB founder and President Bill Powell (L) and DUSD Paul Brinkley (R) with security team in Baghdad, Iraq 2007 (Photo: Institute for Defense and Business)

IDB has worked closely with TFBSO since the Task Force was formed in 2006. The IDB team helped recruit business leaders to travel to Iraq for Brinkley’s initial corporate delegations in 2007 aimed at generating investment in and demand for Iraqi products. IDB also provided manpower and administrative support in Iraq before TFBSO was fully staffed. Most significantly, though, it is IDB’s partnership with TFBSO since 2006 that made possible the development and delivery of 17 predeployment roundtable conferences for Army and Marine Corps units deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. These roundtables, delivered by IDB’s Center for Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction (CSER), brought together the deploying unit’s command team with the civilian government, Non-Governmental Organization, International organization, and private sector actors engaged in stability operations in the unit’s area of responsibility.

IDB and CSER are proud to have supported TFBSO in its important work to bring stabilization and economic reconstruction to Iraq and Afghanistan. We also congratulate former DUSD Paul Brinkley for Warfront to Storefront, which is an excellent read!

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If you’d like to learn more about the
Center for Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction,
please contact Amb. (Ret.) David C. Litt