Strong Angel is an informal consortium of agencies and organizations that have together hosted a series of international disaster response demonstrations leveraging public-private collaboration within a complex disaster response scenario. Since 1999 the Strong Angel series has focused on field experimentation within very challenging environments, testing the use of cutting-edge techniques and technologies to facilitate more effective humanitarian response.
The name for the event, Strong Angel, was chosen to recognize two important influences in the humanitarian response sector. The first was "Operation Sea Angel" in 1991, an impromptu rescue operation led by General Henry Stackpole leading a US Navy Amphibious Task Force in urgent response to an unnamed cyclone in Bangladesh. That rescue operation is generally credited with saving up to 200,000 lives and stimulated the entire field of research around complex operations in humanitarian response. The second influence was the insightful DARPA Program Manager responsible for the original civil-military integration concept, Dr. Gary Strong.
There are several specific sectors tested in each Strong Angel event, with the general goals of (1) improved information flow, (2) the provisioning of urgent and sustainable critical services, and (3) trans-boundary cooperation, all in the aftermath of a disaster. The Strong Angel demonstrations are broadly international in nature, with more than 15 nations participating in 2006, and the ethos of the demonstration is "radical inclusion" on the supposition that good ideas can come from anywhere - and especially from within the communities most at risk.
Everything created by any Strong Angel event is released to the public domain. Demonstrations were held in 2000, 2004, and 2006, and no more are planned.
Strong Angel demonstrations have been designed and performed by a globally distributed team of experts led by Eric Rasmussen, MD, a former US Navy Commander, since the series inception. Members of the Strong Angel team include medical, military, humanitarian, and technology experts. Team members are drawn from the public and private sector, civilian and military, domestic and international, and they include engineers, UN staff, humanitarian NGO workers, academic researchers, government employees from several nations, journalists, inventors, policy makers, and active duty military officers.
Strong Angel Executive Committee members during past events, and their current career positions in 2015, include Gay Mathews (CEO of the North Hawaii Credit Union in Honoka'a, Big Island, Hawaii), Robert Kirkpatrick (Executive Director of the UN's Global Pulse initiative within the Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations), John Crowley (Senior Manager within the Global Facility for Disaster Risk and Recovery within the World Bank in Washington DC), Suzanne Mikawa Kirkpatrick (formerly the Program Manager within the Office of the Executive at Microsoft, now with a master's degree in User-Centered Design and working in New York), Doug Hanchard (Executive Director of Rapid Response Consulting in Ottawa, Canada and London UK), Pete Griffiths (Deputy Division Chief, Future Warfare Systems Division, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency), Nigel Snoad (Director of Global Disaster Response for Google), David Warner (owner of the Taj near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan where he runs a collaborative education program for schools in Nangarhar Province near the Kyber Pass), Brian Steckler (director of the Hastily Formed Networks program within the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and Lead Architect of the Rapid Telecommunications Assessment Team (RTAT) initiative), Clare Lockhart (Senior Executive within the Institute for State Effectiveness in Washington DC), Adam Royce (graduate student in Homeland Security and IT manager at San Diego State University), and Eric Frost (Professor of Geology and Director of the Visualization Laboratory at San Diego State University).
Vice-Admiral Dennis McGinn was a sponsor of the Strong Angel concept in 1999 and was named in July 2013 the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and the Environment.
Dr. Lin Wells, mentor to many of the Executive Committee members and source funding for the dominant share of the Strong Angel III budget, was the Chief Information Officer for the US Department of Defense and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration. He later served as the Director of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy within National Defense University in Washington DC before his transition to the private sector in June 2014. At that point he had completed 51 years of government service.
The Center for the Management of Information (CMI) at the University of Arizona provided significant planning, technical, and collaboration support and facilitated group meetings as part of a four-year DARPA investigation of collaboration with the US Third Fleet.
Afloat Civil-Military Operations Center
One of the early concepts tested within the Strong Angel Demonstration was a shipboard Civil-Military Operations Center or CMOC, designed to be as valuable to the civilian humanitarian community as to the military, despite being located on a Navy warship.
The UN agency staff from World Food Programme, UNHCR, UNICEF, plus international military staff from Australia, Peru, Japan and others all agreed to come aboard the USS Coronado (AGF-11), the Command Ship for Third Fleet, five days before the start of the first Strong Angel event. While aboard, all humanitarian staff were provided with office workspaces, clean beds in dark and air-conditioned rooms, hot showers, good food, reliable communications (both voice and data), scheduled transportation ashore, and a range of humanitarian agency meeting spaces on the ship that could accommodate between five and 100 people. The result was a strikingly improved civil-military planning integration and the rapid development of something resembling mutual professional respect. When the refugee management exercise started on the 6th day and the demonstration got underway, the days spent in conversation while living together in close quarters allowed a more rapid and efficient response to take place. The results were eventually briefed personally to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Opportunities for early civil-military integration during the planning phase of operations have since been taken for real-world events in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those, too, have also proved beneficial, but were land-based. To our knowledge no other Afloat CMOCs have been developed since 2001, though the templates and checklists for several classes of Navy ships and a range of disaster types remain available, and circumstances in several disasters might have made such an effort useful.
Strong Angel I in 2000
The first Strong Angel (SA-I) was held near Puu Pa'a on the Big Island of Hawaii in June 2000 to address problems seen in the international response to the Kosovo refugee migration. Strong Angel participants established a distributed medical intelligence communications infrastructure at a mock refugee camp using the latest global communications technologies and lessons learned from the social sciences. That first Strong Angel, an ad hoc integration of UN relief agencies and international militaries working in concert toward a serious humanitarian problem, was exceptionally effective and generated positive press in both domestic US and international newspapers and magazines. Several reasons were proposed for the success, but credit must be given to the early support received from senior UN field staff present within the earliest planning conferences that were hosted by the US Navy. Benefit was also derived from the senior military commander at Strong Angel mandating military participation in a humanitarian effort at a level equal to the intensity required for combat. That requirement was later incorporated within the 2005 US Department of Defense Directive 3000.05, the seminal document mandating that the US military become effective at stability, security, transition and reconstruction (SSTR) operations, a subset of which is military support to humanitarian operations.
Strong Angel II in 2004
The second Strong Angel (SA-II) was also held on a remote lava bed in Hawaii and, in 2004, pursued problems identified by members of the first Strong Angel team who were deployed to post-September 11, 2001 attacks conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. SA-II eventually incorporated 83 tasks designed to propose answers to problems seen in civil-military integration during those conflict deployments, including such topics as trans-boundary communications, civil-military transportation coordination, sustainable power provisioning, machine-based translation services, and competent cultural awareness. Those tasks were each eventually completed, with variable degrees of success, through the efforts of more than 60 staff on a remote and austere site near Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
Strong Angel III in 2006
The third in the Strong Angel series, SA-III in 2006 was designed to address problems seen in multiple natural and man-made disasters where Strong Angel members had deployed since 2004. Those events include the South Asian tsunami in December 2004, Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Hurricane Rita in September 2005, and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. SA-III was held in San Diego, California from 20–26 August 2006. San Diego State University hosted the Strong Angel team. The team members were drawn from US government agencies, international and domestic militaries, First Responders, domestic and international humanitarian organizations, academia, and private volunteers.
There were roughly 50 objectives and tasks identified for SA-III and they incorporate the development of community tools for use within a pandemic influenza response. The immediate goal was the creation of a set of self-organizing and self-distributing principles. The overarching goal was the development of tools and techniques for promoting a robust and resilient community-response capability for both natural and man-made disasters. The event drew from the field experience of many agencies and corporations with deep and successful experience in austere environments, including MedWeb for field diagnostics, telemedicine, and medical informatics, and the Naval Postgraduate School's Hastily Formed Networks for the urgent establishing of civil-military bridge mesh communications.
One of the other objectives within SA-III was the development of social tools and techniques that encourage collaborative cooperation between responders and the population they serve during post-disaster reconstruction. Those have served as a consistent source of tension between the responder's procedural requirements and the stated needs of the people directly affected by the events.
The tools and techniques proposed for answering the tasks were selected for testing and demonstration based on their availability for international deployment by the end of the 2006 calendar year.
The Future of Strong Angel
There are no further Strong Angel demonstrations planned because, fortunately, the idea of a collaborative civil-military international disaster response demonstration is no longer unique. US Pacific Command in Hawaii has several offices, the J-9 for example, that work on similar events around the Pacific Rim.
Strong Angel Principles
As described above, the STRONG ANGEL series was initiated during RIMPAC 2000 by Third Fleet with oversight and support from US Pacific Command (PACOM), US Pacific Fleet (PACFLEET), the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The design is a four-step process:
1. Using real-world events for spotting system problems in response and recovery, interview participants from those events, including military, civilian organizations and civilians, and document the problems they remember. The problems are usually identified through in-person interviews in the field so that a true system problem is clearly identified, rather than, say, a unique staffing issue.
2. We then sort the problems into buckets that represent classes of problems, usually falling into one of 14 sectors:
- Agriculture and Livestock
- Integrated Cooking
- Environmental regulation (heating and cooling)
- GIS for imagery, mapping, and analysis
- ICT and informatics (including Cyber Defense)
- Medical and Public Health
- Transportation and other logistics considerations
3. We then cast a wide net looking for possible solutions to the problems we’ve identified. Once we have responses, we link all those who wish to propose a solution to one of the problems and identify with them what might be required to deliver an adequately compelling demonstration of their idea.
4. Last, we build a set of increasingly complicated examples of the problem set across five days of demonstrations, encouraging common data standards, international collaboration, cross-sector integration, and a "systems" design that minimizes effort, maximizes utility, and makes the population in need of support the core focus of every initiative.
There is no competition. No ranking of successful solutions. No winner. The intent is an equal assessment of success in meeting solution criteria, no matter how small the submitting site.
The event itself has proven a useful venue for assessing readiness, for training personnel on issues they’ll rarely see in an artificially controlled environment, and for learning the strengths and weaknesses of other staff and organizations with whom they may have to work over the span of their careers. From that exposure has historically come improved curriculum and expanded training goals, both leading to more effective civil-military integration during a real-world emergency response.
The resulting report after the conclusion of the week contains a discussion of every problem and any solution that met the criteria for success. In the past such choices have later been evaluated by NPS, MCWL, the Army’s Rapid Reaction Force, NAVSEA, DARPA, ONR, SOCOM, CENTCOM and others, selecting based on their internal or Service-wide needs.
- Unfilled Promise, Baseline Magazine, Case 165, May 2005
- Syracuse University researchers team up with international agencies, SU News, June 2000
- Adkins, Mark; Kruse, John; et al. (2001). "Experience using collaborative technology with the United Nations and multi-national militaries: rim of the Pacific 2000 Strong Angel exercise in humanitarian assistance". Proceedings of the 34th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences. ISBN 0-7695-0981-9. doi:10.1109/HICSS.2001.926247.
- "Collaborative Data Collection during Strong Angel and RIMPAC 2000". MITRE.
- Strong Angel extension to RIMPAC 2000