Center for Strategic Decision Research


Technology for Crisis Management

Mr. Steve Coggins
Senior Vice President and General Manager, Europe at Silicon Graphics International (SGI)


My remarks are going to focus on using IT for crisis management, but before I begin I would like to make a few quick comments about Russia. I am a little bit concerned about the quality of the statistics I am going to give you, because I read them in a magazine, but here they are anyway: 3% of the world's population is Russian; 13% of the world's territory is Russian; 24% of the world's intellectual human resources are Russian; and 41% of the world's natural resources are Russian. So there is much to be gained by closer collaboration with Russians, both for them and for the rest of us. But there is a long way to go. If the IT business is an indicator of levels of innovation, productivity, and speed, then you will understand why I say there is a long way to go: global IT companies, be they American, European, or Japanese based, typically generate less than 1% of their revenues from Russia. So there is a mismatch, but there is also an opportunity. 

My company has a reasonable business in Russia. We have great people and great partnerships, and we are stepping up our efforts because we see the emerging opportunities. We are concentrating particularly on systems integrators, whether they are Russian or globally based, because they are very important.  


At the Berlin Workshop in 2002, I said that technology can or should have a large part in alleviating or at least controlling the root causes of terrorism, which are the major source of insecurity in the world today. I still believe this to be the case. At the most basic level, technology can be brought to bear on tackling poverty and inequality and enhancing health, education, and opportunity. It can assist in the war against international crime, which is clearly linked to most premeditated terrorism, and it can help to secure boundaries and borders. 

Technology can also help with security, for example, in securing a new set of potential targets and securing our information systems and information infrastructures. Data-mining techniques as well as visualization techniques can be used to dictate and track potential breaches of firewalls and become an increasingly important part of our preventive strategy. 

Since the Workshop in Berlin, however, we have seen that prevention is not foolproof, nor is it likely to be so. There have been scores of terrorist events recently, and the head of the security services in the U.K. just said publicly that, in her view, a major terrorist attack on a city or on one of the developed nations was likely to occur in the not-distant future. So it is not too pessimistic or alarmist of me to contemplate how technology might help if and when such a crisis erupts. 


Here is a possible scenario: A major capital, perhaps your home city, is preparing for the International Monetary Fund to hold its long-planned annual meeting there. A protest rally is to be held, and the local police force is responsible for crowd control and IMF protection. In addition, an unexpected crisis requires that various heads of state convene a summit in the city at the same time, and the security services are coordinating their movements and protection. As well, intelligence reports are warning of a possible terrorist attack on the city. Now the authorities have established a crisis-management command center from where they will act accordingly.  

Before the heads of state arrive, the security services use a highly accurate 3-D model of the city to plan routes for the VIPs, to conduct blind-side analysis, and to station their personnel in the best position for surveillance. Well in advance of the IMF meeting, the local police use the same model to plan for crowd control of the protest rally, to place barriers most effectively, and to identify possible stress on the roads and transport systems. They have also been able to model potential scenarios in order to assess the effects of unexpected events, such as the crowd breaking out of the authorized demonstration zone. 

On the day in question, the command center is occupied by the security service, local police, intelligence authorities, and emergency services such as fire and ambulance. They are all able to network security services between their own organizations and the central crisis-management community. Because the center is formed around a large-scale display that is flexible and reactive to users, personnel can call up what they want to see, when they want to see it, assuming that the data has been collected, stored, and regularly updated. 

The first incident to be reported is an explosion on a subway train. The location is immediately displayed at the command center, both in 2-D and 3-D. Emergency responders are sent to the scene, taking preplanned routes that have been coordinated with the security services and local police. But now it appears that the explosion may be a diversion, because, shortly after it goes off, terrorists in the protest-rally crowd release a large chemical plume, a particle discharge. Sensors that have been placed in advance and are linked to the command center indicate that the chemical plume is moving towards the building that will house the summit. The security service immediately locks down the VIPs in a safe area, but the crowd panics and starts to move outside the authorized zone. 

Quickly the command center team plays forward the evolution of the chemical plume and visualizes where it will be hour after hour. In this way, they can ascertain safe and unsafe evacuation routes for the crowd, and channel people accordingly. They can also start to implement an evacuation plan to protect the remaining population of the city. Because they are certain there will be significant casualties, the team calls for displays of all emergency service facilities and their exact location. With this information readily available, the team is able to task those who will be able to operate most effectively and relocate those who are threatened by the chemical discharge. They can also identify safe and suitable routes for accommodating and decontaminating the casualties. Surveillance cameras transmitting high-stream-definition video to the command team are then used to seek out and identify suspicious activities and individuals. 


Is this a worst-case scenario? I do not believe so. I think it is a very realistic, middle-of-the-road scenario in the range of possibilities, and it is actually one I simplified to save time. But even in its simplified form, I think we can see some fundamental points: 

  • First, in order to manage this sort of crisis, we will have to network extensively.  
  • Second, the amount of relevant data will be huge and will come in many forms and from many sources. 
  • Third, while crisis management will involve preparatory work before an event, it will also demand decisionmaking in real time, which in turn will call for the collection, management, and display of data in near real time. 

Ultimately, decisionmaking has to be done by people. But without the support of technology that companies like mine can provide, such as real-time sensing, computing power, and high-definition visualization of data, the decision-making process will become strangled by efforts to understand the environment. 

So this is how technology can be used. Put in military terms, it enables situation awareness, and my company, with our partners, offers situation awareness to decision makers in a variety of circumstances. 


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