Notes from the field: Supporting the U.S. DOD’s Southern Command during the Haitian earthquake relief program
Guest contribution from Philip Adzima
Hi – Philip Adzima here. I work as a technical account manager for Adobe, focused on providing product solutions to customers using Adobe Connect. Along with people from government and service agencies all over the world, I had the privilege of participating in my own small, but personally memorable, way to the humanitarian relief effort following the devastating earthquake that ravaged Haiti on January 12, 2010. This is a recap of my week on the ground in Miami supporting military and aid personnel using Defense Connect Online (DCO), which continue to be mission-critical communication tools for Operation Unified Response–the Haitian relief effort being led by the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). SOUTHCOM is part of the U.S. Department of Defense. Technology aside, it was amazing to witness firsthand the commitment and dedication of so many people working to help others in need.
Why did I go? I was asked to travel to Miami to supplement the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) SOUTHCOM Field Office expertise in supporting the day-to-day DCO operations. Specifically, this was by providing technical assistance to many new users who needed to be up and running quickly and in a sustained fashion with the real-time collaboration capabilities within DCO. Most of the users were members of SOUTHCOM, but also included were partnering governments and relief agencies. I was inspired to see the extent of U.S. SOUTHCOM’s humanitarian efforts and the coordination of the work with hundreds of assistance and disaster response programs.
When I arrived at the project office in Miami, I knew the time would be very well spent and my involvement needed, as additional support personnel requiring access to the capabilities were arriving both in Miami and Haiti every day. Users included various levels of military staff and other aid personnel, many of whom my job was to support so they could quickly put the technology to use.
Personnel in the Florida offices used DCO Connect to meet online and share screens to communicate response plans with deployed troops in Haiti, as well as DCO Chat for Instant Messaging for rapid delivery of information. They also worked with other command teams across the globe–filing reports, relaying news, and keeping remote teams informed and engaged. Military personnel could also hold scheduled, daily briefing calls to ensure close coordination of all activities. Equally important, personnel could quickly jump into DCO Chat as needed to clarify plans at a moment’s notice.
Given the magnitude of the suffering in Haiti, the scale of Operation Unified Response was tremendous. And through my time in Miami, I gained a lot of valuable insight into the role technology can play in such an effort. With so many on-site and remote users of all skill levels relying on DCO, their experiences and feedback helped me better understand how it performs in high-demand, high-stakes environments. I could see some common user challenges and ways we can alleviate them moving forward, as well as ways in which people could jump right in and start using the system with little or no training. It was rewarding to see technology enable vital support and collaboration as part of the definition of a “mission-critical” operation.
I’m grateful for the time I spent in Miami, supporting the impressive and committed team at U.S. SOUTHCOM. While I worked behind the scenes, I know my efforts helped the Command ensure people could stay connected and share essential information. Being part of such an important effort and seeing so many people working 24×7 to help a country in need respond to a natural disaster left me with a renewed respect for how people really come together in times of great need.