Edited Version of May 27, 1998 Transcript
EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation


James Bowen
CoordTek, Inc.

EIIP Tech Arena Moderator: Amy Sebring

The original transcript of May 27, 1998 online Tech Arena discussion is available in EIIP Virtual Forum Archives (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the participants to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: On behalf of the EIIP, I am pleased to welcome you to a special event in our Tech Arena. Please hold all questions and comments until we get to the Q&A portion of the program about half past the hour. We will review the instructions at that time.

Now, before I introduce our special guests, I would like to review how to use links to display Web pages in another browser window for the benefit of our newcomers. When a full URL is typed in the message area, it becomes a hot link, so you can just click on it, and a webpage will display in another browser window.


And now, it is my pleasure to introduce James Bowen of CoordTek, Inc. who is going to speak about SitRep2200. Welcome, James, and thanks for being here today.


James Bowen: Hello, Amy, it is a pleasure to be here today. This forum is an example of a wave of technology that is hitting the emergency management/disaster recovery field. The wave will greatly revolutionize our ability to keep up-to-date on realtime events, communicate between colleagues and allow us to not only act faster but more effectively for a more optimal response.

The product I would like to talk to you about today recognizes that this technology breakthrough is already here and can be implemented today. The company I work for, CES, was established in 1975 and has its technological expertise in real-time multi-user, multi-processor systems and advanced systems utilizing artificial intelligence. We have combined concepts from several fields such as military command and control, planning, and emergency/disaster management into SitRep2200.

Basically, in emergency management situations there is a command post and dispersed teams that need to follow a plan and accept modifications to the plan for a coordinated response. This means real-time communications of the status of events, actions, etc. Currently this is done through phone, radio or perhaps groupware products. However, we also need a system that automatically provides the required information to the user in terms of tasks to complete and status of tasks.

This team might cross organizational lines and have a myriad of different types of computers involved. The synchronization and coordination between individuals and an understanding of the status of the plan's implementation are of prime importance.

Many situations are of short duration ranging from hours to a few days. In such situations the individuals involved are concerned with accomplishing the activities with minimal time delays and in the shortest duration possible.

In SITREP2200, a plan which is a set of activities, can be represented, and the software allows each team member to indicate the status of each activity item.

The SITREP2200 system consists of four main packages: a Plan Editor, a Situation Management Centre, a Training/Message Centre, and a Command Post Console. Amy, can we see Slide 1 (Microsoft 95 version)?

[Slide 1]

James Bowen: In this slide we see the Plan Editor. The Plan Editor provides the facilities to define the various activities to be performed by each team member, and to interconnect those activities that influence or affect other personnel. Thus, for example, if there is a chemical spill, the clean-up crews may need to know when it is safe to begin work based on the activity of another team member.

If we view a typical plan as a network of activities, linked to together. For example, some individuals such as a management team need to know when certain items are done for decision-making purposes, others need to know so they can begin their activities.

The editor allows us to represent this type of interconnected plan. As well, as basic items that we simply do not want to forget such as relief of crews. Amy, can we see Slide 2?

[Slide 2]

James Bowen: Thank you. This slide shows the Unix version of the Situation Management Centre. The Situation Management Centre provides the various team personnel a reminder of the activities to perform for a given situation

The Situation Management Centre provides the various team personnel a reminder of the activities to perform for a given situation. The Situation Management Centre also provides a mechanism to pass status information to people who require it before being able to complete their own activities.

From here we can see the status of any activity item (Applicable, Not Applicable, In Progress, No Longer In Progress, Complete, Not Complete), all the activity items that will be automatically updated when we complete a particular item.

For example, we see that when we complete activity item #1, team member Bill's activity item "Ensure all units are functioning" will also be updated.

As well, we see the time stamps for each time an activity item was changed including who changed it and to what status. From this focal point, we can access reports on the status of all activity items and activity lists as a whole.

As well, we can enter log items. Log items can be notes for future reference, an action item for some one else to work on, or an item to bring to some one's action list. As well, we can send messages to other team members and have an automatic notice "pop-up" on their screen. Amy, can we see Slide 3?

[Slide 3]

James Bowen: This slide is also a Unix version. The Training/Message Centre provides the staff in the Command Post the ability to send messages to specific users. Thus providing a dual purpose tool for setting up and running training simulations and for sending messages to team members during a situation.

The Command Post Console provides the command post personnel a view of the interactions that the team is having with the central computer including the name and machine ID of those that log in and out, and any problems that they are having accessing their activity list, etc.

In addition, SITREP2200 offers many other capabilities: The system captures the various activities and processes that must be done and interconnections can be corrected easily, and preserved for the future. Plan coordinators can change the plans and all people involved can be updated with new activity lists.

SITREP2200 can be installed and communicate amongst existing computing platforms, for example, the SUN (under SPARC solaris or x86 solaris), PC (under Windows 95 or Windows NT) and the MacIntosh under System 7.5. Other platforms are also possible.

Using a laptop and a modem, the system is totally portable allowing any official to move around and keep up to date at the same time. There is no requirement for the additional purchase of special terminal software.

In many client/server systems where one type of machine, for example, a SUN, serves as the central computer, and another type is actually used to operate the software,

such as a MacIntosh, extra software has to be purchased.

SITREP2200 is compact thus saving memory and hard disk space for the user. SITREP2200 is Internet compatible. SITREP2200 can be utilized through a local area network, dial in connection and the Internet.


The vision behind SitRep2200 will continue to explode outward in capability as we move more technology into the product. For example, in the near future we can see using new Internet compatible cellular phones as the unit for the field teams.

That ends my presentation. Thank you for your attention. Amy, I would be pleased to answer any questions.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, James. If we run out of time, you will have a chance to ask James afterward in the follow up session in the Virtual Forum. Audience, do we have some questions or comments for James?

[Audience Questions]


Tim Murphy: Who is currently using this application?

James Bowen: Good question, Tim. SitRep2200 is new to the market with the original concepts being purchased by the military.


Rick Tobin: What is the optimum number of participants in this system? It seems there might be an overload level.

James Bowen: Hi Rick. By optimum that can mean either machine capacity or team size. It is a multi-user, multi-tasking system which means that as long as the machine has the speed, it can handle large numbers. As for team size it has been my experience that as the team grows in size that overhead to coordinate it grows much faster. I would say that this overhead explosion starts around 10-20 people.


James Bowen: What does your experience say?

Rick Tobin: The question really falls back to human perception. During testing, you must have noted a point at which people became "zoned out" with the layers of data and messages. I just wondered if there was a maximum practical size for such applications before people go on overload.

James Bowen: The system is concerned with task completion rather than a general messaging system. This allows the user to concentrate on coordination information with other users.

Rick Tobin: I'd guess when you hit about 100, active participants, you are in big trouble.

James Bowen: I would say so. My experience in the military suggests before that some personnel become dedicated to coordination activities. It might interest audience members to know that in June on our website there will be available a free 2 user version of the new release.


Vern Adler: Is this a mechanism parallel in operation to the old PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique) which was used for complex systems and critical resources allocation while showing critical path functions?

James Bowen: Hi Vern. No, it allows the user to devise a plan and divide the plan into activity list per user and form the information flows between activities as needed. It does not concern it self with reviewing critical paths but on ensuring that each team member is update on task completing and other coordinated related activities.


Vern Adler: Can this system be "exercised"? It is hard to grasp its value absent a hands-on familiarity.

James Bowen: In June you can download a copy and try it. The system once set up will allow the controller to devise exercise scenarios to train a team. I provide two answers to your question, depending on what you meant.

Amy Sebring: Let's put up that website, James. <http://www.sitrep2200.com/>

James Bowen: Thanks Amy. We are expecting to have the version 2.0 beta on the site by mid June. We are currently devise our trade show list for the coming year. Any suggestions? Perhaps we can get to a place near some of the audience members.


Amy Sebring: Will you be at the FEMA Technology Conference, Argonne IL?

James Bowen: We could. I think the interesting part of the technology approach we have chosen is the growth we will see as the product grows. The underlying technology is aimed at communication abilities. This means that team members can expect to see the field unit shrink in size and connect to faxes, computer, pagers, etc.

Amy Sebring: Here is the webpage for the Argonne conference. <http://fema.dis.anl.gov/info.html>


Amy Sebring: James, how is this system different from other groupware systems?

James Bowen: Group ware is an entirely different technology. For example, we are concerned with the presentation of activities and alerting each team relevant team member of our task status and whether they can make their decisions or start their tasks in a way that presents pre-formed information to be "checkoff".


Avagene Moore: I may have missed this in your earlier remarks, but has the system been used successfully in a real incident?

James Bowen: No, it is new to the market. Primarily, since the underlying technology was only recent available to build a low cost system that can operate on almost any machine. However, the original system was purchased by the military.


Tim Murphy: This software seems to be written for a very controlled situation such as an industrial plant or a nuclear power plant. Comment?

James Bowen: Good question. Basically there are two types of situations that we are concerned with, the preplanned and ad hoc. The preplanned as represented in our emergency plans can be readily implemented. Currently the ad hoc can be dealt with through the log and messaging capabilities. In the future we are looking at having the capability of the user to create ad hoc tasks and incorporate them into a plan on the fly. Well, Amy, I would like to extend an invitation to the audience members to try the product in June.


Amy Sebring: James, does the system monitor and adjust for message traffic?

James Bowen: Good question. The system, given the computer capacity can handle large volumes.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much James for being with us. I, for one, intend to take you up on your invitation to try the beta.

James Bowen: Thank you, Amy, and audience members.

Final Question:

Neil Nelson: Is it too late for questions?

Amy Sebring: We are going to adjourn to the Virtual Forum, Neil and we can ask further questions there. Thank you all.

After the close of the formal hour of discussion in the Tech Arena, the speaker and audience moved to the Virtual Forum for a few more questions and comments relative to Mr. Bowen's topic.

Amy Sebring: Thank you James!


Neil Nelson: James, what is the engine behind SITREP2200?


James Bowen: What do you mean by engine, Neil?

Neil Nelson: We are currently using Lotus Notes applications to handle messaging and adhoc taskers.


James Bowen: Are you in California?

Neil Nelson: Yes, US Army Corps of Engineers, South Pacific Division.

James Bowen: The technology driving this is Java which allows us to place the system on different operating systems at a low cost, low CPU, low memory requirement and move out into any similar platform, such as cellular phones. Imagine the savings if your team merely had to be equipped with the new web based cell phone and no computer.

Neil Nelson: That's great! I'll look forward to downloading your sample product.

We are using Skytel 2 way paging to send simple short info between team members.

James Bowen: Great, unless hooked directly to satellite for example, that's the way ships could be into the team.


Neil Nelson: After a major earthquake, I'm sure all of the cell phones, pagers, etc. will be interrupted. How can your system survive? I have a 10 AM appointment so I need to leave. I'll get in touch with you later via email through your site. Thanks for the info.

James Bowen: Thanks. I think that this technology allows us to move beyond our static one dimensional plans that I have seen and into viewing our team as a realtime "web" of people and tasks.


Jonathan Perry: How are cellular phones integrated into this software?

James Bowen: Good question. Any cell phone can make a link to a local Internet service provider and once on the Internet then they can reached the system. For North American customers the system will come with an automatic professional encryption/decryption package to protect data while traveling the Internet. However, I am saying of the new Internet capable cell phones. Any other questions?


Tim Murphy: When you say it is written in Java, will it display in a web browser?

James Bowen: Hi Tim, it currently is built to work without a browser. But we are looking at making a browser version (quite easy to do actually) so that there is no need to have software reside on the local machine.


Tim Murphy: So I would need a client version on every machine in my network?

James Bowen: Currently, yes.

Tim Murphy: Thanks Mr. Bowen. Have to go. I'll look for your beta next month.


Cindy Rice: What type of encrypt/decrypt? Separate keys for different locations? PGP? Windows NT security issues? Sorry, if this has been covered, just got in office.

James Bowen: Ok Cindy, the encrypting, etc. Something that the user does not see other than he/she must enter a special secure password. The algorithm is currently not available outside North America by order of the US Federal government.

Cindy Rice: We deal with Army, FEMA, other states and local jurisdiction which have their separate security issues.


James Bowen: I believe Cindy that this algorithm will satisfy your group given it origins. Cindy, the algorithm takes the secure password and uses it as part of the encrypting routine. The receiver must have the same password to use in the decrypting routine. Any other questions?


Cindy Rice: But with PGP and what Clinton administration has talked about, will that make significant changes in the program/security?


James Bowen: Please refresh my mind, what was Clinton talking about?

Cindy Rice: Encryption codes will all have to be available to government and that there may be conflicts because of people using PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) or other encryption programs.

James Bowen: This algorithm is available to the government and is from, I believe, RSA Labs.

Cindy Rice: Hey, it a question that may throw a monkey-wrench in everybody's software, if using several encryption programs within a site.

James Bowen: Fortunately LANs and the Internet divide up packets and send across the Internet back and forth. It should not interfere with any other package using the LAN and Internet.

Final Question:

Avagene Moore: Any last minute comments or questions, folks? About time to close up for today. James, thank you again for being here with us. Very informative discussion.

James Bowen: Thank you. Good bye all.

Avagene Moore: Audience, we appreciate you too. Join us whenever you can. On behalf of the EIIP Virtual Forum, let's adjourn for this session.