Government IT Scrambles To Help Haiti

The military and other branches of the U.S. federal government are rolling out new and old technologies to bolster the Haiti earthquake relief effort.
Federal agencies are deploying IT and telecommunications resources to aid Haiti in the wake of that country’s devastating earthquake this week.

For example, the military’s shared IT services organization, the Defense Information Systems Agency, has been providing aid organizations with bandwidth and frequency support for air traffic control and freight management at the airport in Port-au-Prince and for commercial satellite communication missions to help with the relief efforts.

DISA has also gone live with a formerly beta application -- the Transnational Information Sharing Cooperation tool -- that links non-government organizations with the United States and other nations for tracking, coordinating and organizing relief efforts. More than 280 users have so far logged onto the tool.

In a speech on Thursday, President Obama mentioned government work to send technical and communications support to Haiti in order to bring communications networks back online and provide technical support to coordinate logistics.

The Marines have brought sophisticated command and control systems to Haiti on board several amphibious ships, the Air Force has launched an unmanned aerial vehicle to survey the damage, and the hospital ship Comfort that is being deployed has access to an electronic health record system.

“We’re focused on getting command and control and communications there so that we can really get a better understanding of what's going on,” Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said in a news briefing on Wednesday. “The [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti], as their headquarters partially collapsed, lost a lot of their communication, and so we're looking to robust that communication.”

Agencies are also using social media to help coordinate aid. For example, the Department of State has been getting word out on Twitter and Facebook.