Nature of Challenge

Excerpt from "Hastily Formed Networks" by Peter Denning

The ability to form multi-organizational networks rapidly is crucial to humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and large urgent projects. Designing and implementing the network's conversation space is the central Challenge.

On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, taking 2,749 lives. The attack resulted in severe economic impact, especially to airlines, and a stock market loss of $1.2 trillion. On Dec. 26, 2004, a tsunami from a 9.1 earthquake overran the shores of many countries along the vast rim of the Indian Ocean. Over 283,000 people died. On Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina, a category-5 hurricane, knocked out electric and communication infrastructure over 90,000 square miles of Louisiana and Mississippi and displaced 1.5 million people. Six months later, New Orleans still housed fewer than 100,000 of its original 1.2 million residents. On Oct. 8, 2005, a magnitude-7.6 earthquake devastated the Kashmir region of Pakistan, killing over 87,000 people. Besides being unexpected major disasters, these events had one other common feature: they all involved hastily formed networks that quickly mobilized, organized, and coordinated massive humanitarian responses.

The severity of these disasters drove home an important point: the quality of the response depended not on response planning or on new equipment, but on the quality of the network that came together to provide relief. How quickly were voice and data communications restored? How well did the many players from disparate organizations collaborate? How effectively did the network deliver help to the victims? These incidents demonstrated sharp differences in the quality of the hastily formed network (HFN), which directly affected the effectiveness of the response. Noting that these networks almost always involve military, civilian government, and non-government organizations, the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have made it a priority to learn how to effectively assemble HFNs. We coined the term at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2004.

The lessons learned from the networks involving government carry directly into private settings. They will benefit any urgent network of multiple organizations with no common authority that must cooperate and collaborate. Hastily formed networks is an area where advanced networking technology and human organization issues meet. They can work well together, or they can clash. Our purpose here is to give an overview of this critical area and the challenges it offers to computing professionals.

Read full document here: Hastily Formed Networks (PDF, 224KB)

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