Architecture for an Emergency Lane on the NII: Crisis
Statement of the Problem
Responses to disasters, both natural and man-caused, are usually multiorganization, multijurisdiction events. This inherent organizational complexity compounds the chances for missed communications, inadequate intelligence regarding the event, and the consequent escalation of both the size and the cost in lives and dollars of that event. For their actions to be consistent, coordinated, and constructive, responders must have a common understanding of the problems they facea common "mental map." They must also be able to quickly create an organization capable of meeting the disaster-caused needs.
The national information infrastructure (NII) with its new information technologies, properly applied, has the ability to greatly improve disaster preparation and response, thereby reducing the cost of these operations. The technology has the potential of supporting emergency managers in four critical areas: (1) supporting crisis decision making, (2) managing information overload, (3) supporting first responders, and (4) capturing vital information at its source. Within this paper we suggest a strategy to build a command and control, computing, communications, and intelligence (C4I) system for civilian crisis management. It will bring with it the new C4I doctrine, new emergency organizational networks, and technological standards to ensure seamless interlinking and interoperability. The proposed architecture for the NII that will provide an emergency lane on the information highway is developed in the Recommendations section of this paper.
The implementation of the new technology of information must be combined with a sober realization that immense cultural changes will occur within the emergency management community. If we focus on only the technological aspects of this change and do not consider the users' need to feel in control of the new technology, adequate assimilation of the great benefits to be derived from it could be delayed by years.
State of Present Play
The field of the civil emergency manager is particularly caught up in this technological and cultural change. At the same time that emergencies, disasters, and catastrophes seem to be escalating by the month, the emergency manager is caught between the old and the new. Traditionally, the field of emergency management operated in an area of scarce information about the event, whether hurricane, riot, or chemical spill. Today, emergency managers are overwhelmed with a glut of information. Suddenly, they have neither the training nor the tools to handle this level of data. A well-known paradox of information management is that decisionmakers with too much information act just like decisionmakers with too little informationthey make decisions based on their personal experience and expertise, not on an analysis of the current situation. The technology provides no added value if all it does is provide additional information to an already overwhelmed decisionmaker. In the face of this rapid change, emergency response and mitigation have lagged behind the general rate of acceptance of the new information technology. Now, with the support of the Clinton administration and the revitalized Federal Emergency Management Agency, it is full steam ahead. However, the difficulties involved with any dramatic change still remain.
We, living and working at the change of the century, are the "'tween" generation. Here is this new technology on the one handnew, untrusted, and fearsome. On the other hand, there is our intuitive judgment developed through hard-won experience. We are indeed caught on the horns of a dilemma.
History during other times of great change may have a lot to show us about a saner and more harmonious way to survive this frenzied fin de siècle we are thrashing through. It is a misconception that the average person is threatened by change. People are threatened only by changes over which they believe they have no control!
Emergency managers are singularly beset by this phenomenon as they are encouraged to adopt new technologies and methods. Most of these managers have had long experience in the field of disaster relief and rely on this knowledge as the basis on which they make their decisions. The more competent the commander and the more complete the knowledge, the better the decision.
But now managers are confronted with a new 21st-century technologycommand, control, computing, communications, and intelligence (C4I) systems. These systems can provide great support to the emergency manager. They can provide information as concise knowledge that can be quickly understood. They can interpret, filter, and correlate knowledge for making rapid projections and estimates. This is a completely new environment for the emergency manager. Where he or she once operated (and had learned to be comfortable with) uncertainty, now the environment is filled with technologically derived knowledge. Knowledge possessed by experts not at the scene can be made available to the emergency manager either through remote communications or by the use of expert systems. That is a monumental change. It brings with it the often-heard phrase, "That's not how we do it here!" An important part of this rejection of new ways and new tools is a lack of trust. The emergency manager has no sense that he or she owns them and does not feel in control of the technology or of the information it provides.
Analysis of Factors Influencing the Realization of an Emergency Lane on the NII
After a 3-year program of "town meetings," the National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue (NIUSR) has identified the needs for new-age, interlinking communications in time-sensitive arenas.
A most useful tool in overcoming the lack of trust in new information technology is the use of simulations in exercises and demonstrations. Experience is a great teacher, but where in the real world can one gain that experience in a relatively risk-free environment? In the field of emergency response, too many lives are often in jeopardy to risk trying out new technology in real circumstances. Under stress, emergency managers, even after buying and installing new technology, will tend to revert to their experience and intuitive judgment, which are comfortably familiar and have served them well in the past. One of the statements heard often from the observers in the follow-up days of recovery from the Northridge earthquake was, "We never saw so many computers lining the walls with no one using the information." In times of great stress, we all return to the known ways of management, command, and control.
The new technology continues to become more easily usedand more "fun" to learn. The development of the World Wide Web is only the beginning of an evolution that promises to provide a bridge into the new technology for hard-won experience and intuitive judgment. The seasoned emergency manager now has a tool that lets him or her feel in control. The manager can "see" the links into the information and ask for the piece of information wanted, rather than sifting through reams of data spewing out of a machine. And, most importantly, the manager can see this information displayed in a visual "picture" that allows him or her to quickly assess the situation. The manager has grasped the knowledge within the data.
The first step in achieving an effective conversion of raw data to knowledge is to import that information in a form that is easy to use. "A picture is worth a thousand words" because of the comparable speed with which the brain assimilates one printed word and one picture. With all the picture's background and emphasis, the brain perceives a much greater range of data in microseconds.
The World Wide Web enables the emergency manager to (1) choose the information wanted, and (2) see it displayed on an interactive graphic representation as a picture of the information in the setting of the emergency. To this, add the pre-event simulation training that permits the emergency manager to trust the information being
delivered. At last we begin to convince the experienced, knowledgeable commander that this ability to control and respond to the emergency has been improved to an exponential degree through the sophisticated use of information technology. No longer are we using new technology to merely pave over the cow path (ICMA, 1994). We have moved into another realm of control. We own the future and it is ours.
The Barrier for Cultural Change
One of the idiosyncrasies of the civilian emergency manager is that both of the words "command" and "control" are forbidden. They send up red flags on the site of any emergency. Who's in charge? has always been a poorly understood question within civil authority. "Battles" can start on Main Street over this question during the disaster itself. So the emergency management community has elected to hide behind the word "coordinate". This euphemism must be discarded. This doublespeak must be reversed. Someone has to bite the bullet and be in charge! Lives are at stake, resources must be expended in increasing amounts, dollars must be spent. Command and control must be present at the disaster scene. Too often, civilian response is a matter of individual heroismemergency responders, both paid and volunteer, performing over the top in their noble efforts immediately following the event. Uncertainty is the environment of any emergency. The longer this uncertainty remains, the higher the cost in lives lost, property damage, and recovery costs.
Obviously the emergency coordinator must assume command and control. The emergency coordination may be a multilevel, joint command, or a unified command with one spokesman. This type of arrangement must be practiced, simulated, and tested to be quickly effective. One timely adjunct for the civil emergency environment was the adoption, in November 1994, of a national Interagency Command System (ICS) for the multiagency response to large-scale disasters. The National Interagency Command System is built on the original FIRESCOPE and National Interagency Incident Fire Control models of the old Boise Interagency Fire Control Center. It enables the user to limit the uncertainty of the disaster scene quickly. After all, the deciding factor in the successful control of any emergency has always been time. Among other pluses, the new information technology provides the huge advantage of shortened time frames for the development of real information the commander may use in exercising his or her knowledge and judgment. Uncertainty will always be a factor in any response to emergencies. If we have complete control and adequate resources to respond, it is not a crisis! It is merely business as usual for the emergency provider. When there is a lack of trustworthy information and a scarcity of resources, combined with a lack of control, then the true hazards of the emergency environment appear.
One of the continuing problems in the response to any large, multiagency effort has remained the coordination and movement of resources between and among the various responders. The vertical coordination among like agencies (for example, among law enforcement agencies) may proceed with a degree of smoothness. Likewise among the responding fire agencies, coordination tends to remain cooperative and responsive. However, when different agencies such as public works or transportation or social services are brought into the multilevel response, attempts at coordination among dissimilar modes of communication and departmental methods of operation lead to confusion and incompatibility. Further complicating coordination, government and volunteer and nonprofit organizations have different styles of operation. The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have key roles to play in disaster response. In addition to these formal organizations whose presence is anticipated, it is a well-documented phenomenon that ad hoc groups emerge to deal with unanticipated needs during the disaster response. These organizations do not all have to be tightly linked, but their actions must be consistently coordinated if the needs of the victims are to be met. The inability to coordinate policy, logistics, and operations escalates again when multiple agencies from different jurisdictions and levels of government are involved. The fractionalization of coordinated response is even further adversely affected when military assistance and its chain of command are requested by civil authority, and yet another system is mixed into the command equation.
Forecast for the Next Five to Seven Years
A 5- to 7-year forecast is a difficult (and perhaps foolish) undertaking. We do have some current trends, however, that indicate what this future might be. The Internet is growing at 15 percent a month. The World Wide Web is doubling every 53 days. We will take a look at the future, but the traditional rules for predicting future time lines may be another victim of the rate of change in information systems.
One unexpected and highly beneficial spin-off from the cross communication possible on the Internet and the World Wide Web has been the blurring of vertical authority and its consequent concerns for the protection of "turf." Both the Internet and the Web operate across many platforms in a seamless fashion. No one may be sure where or how most of the queries originated. Within the parameters of authorized access, the information is available to all. Interoperability may be the most beneficial of all the various aspects of the new information technology. We have left behind a time when emergencies were synonymous with uncertainty. Now emergencies, and indeed, our daily business lives, are filled with a glut of information. The next big breakthrough in information management will be in software filters such as profilers. Some even predict that there will be an entire new industry of personal media assistants who will filter your information, marking for your attention only that in which you have indicated a major interest. For emergency managers, a system to filter the data glut must have a real time component that may be better served by expert systems, or the reasoning support of knowledge robots ("knowbots"). Such expert systems, simulations, artificial intelligence, intelligent decision support systems, or even some other new tack may be the next exciting advance in the field of information management.
Expert systems are currently pushing the edge of the technology. To date there have been some well-documented failures of attempts at such systems. These failures fall into three classes.
Current work on expert systems (not artificial intelligence) is wrestling with two interesting parameters. They are optimal ignorance and appropriate imprecision. Not to delve too deeply into this subject here, let us just say that these are ways to limit the amount of data to something that the machine can handle without thinking itself into a corner and freezing up. The downside of this approach is that the expert system, in many ways, is like an idiot savant. It can do one thing superbly, but only that one thing. The use of parallel processing at a remote site using high-performance computing could provide a solution for the near term. In this way, the smaller storage and performance PCs at the site of a disaster could download the solutions and data summaries provided by high-performance computing on-site processing. Such processing is currently infeasible in real time in the field. Under the current limitations of disk drive storage and the huge amounts of memory needed for image processing and correlation of disparate databases, it is not possible to process such needed information in the field.
And we desperately need another capability for the emergency manager. We need the ability to sort, digest, summarize, and prioritize data into information, and further, into intelligence. We need to be able to convert data into usable decisionmaking tools in nanoseconds. We need the integrated decision tools that will enable an emergency manager to apply this information to the problem at hand.
Information technology has the ability to provide solutions to these old problems, or it will have in the near future. Information technology's true value is in its ability to provide the new while enhancing the old. The new is the rapidity with which real, trusted information can be provided in an easily understood picture for the
commander. The old is the hard-gained experience that provides the knowledge and judgment of the emergency manager.
The ability of the emergency manager to comfortably use the enormous capability of the new technology is not a matter of purchasing the new ''goodies" to reside on a shelf as another status symbol. It means learning an entire new set of tools for responding to uncertainty. It means developing a hands-on familiarity to these new tools. Just as the driver of a high-performance race car must learn to skillfully use a stick shift, so must the emergency manager learn to use the tools of the new information technologynot merely learn to use that stick shift, but to be thoroughly comfortable with it and to feel as though it were an extension of his or her own hand.
Some emergency managers will make this effort. Some will not. In all cultural changes, some adapt, and some are overrun by the change. Some continued to lay keels for four-masted schooners after Fulton invented the steam engine. Some continued to make buggy whips after the coming of Henry Ford's Model T. Our emphasis within the NII must be on those millions who are jumping onto the Internet and the Web every day. We must focus on those who take the leap of faith into the new. Every change is cluttered with gatekeepers whose very existence is intended to keep change from happening.
At every crossway on the road to the future,
each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to
guard the past.
Maurice Maeterlinck, Nobel Laureate
Rather than worrying about those who will be left, we must focus our efforts on making these new technologies comfortable for those who are joining the new generation. Almost everything negative that one can hear about the computer revolution was said 50 years ago about the radio. All the dire predictions of the cultural changes brought about by the radiofor example, listening to baseball games instead of going down to Wrigley Fieldnever came true. Baseball is still baseball.
There is now an entire subset of people who are as comfortable with a computer as they are with a telephone. They are lost without it. Millions are carrying smaller and smaller versions of their business and personal lives with themin the car, on airplanes, and on vacations. Shortly, all those with a computer are going to have to buy another, more powerful one. The World Wide Web, multimedia, graphics, and all those wonderful (and let us not forget, fun) things eat disk space. They need enormous increases in the speeds of transmission. The market is huge.
Recommendations: An Architecture for the Emergency Lane on the NII
The National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue has developed an architecture that has great promise. It is simple, involves off-the-shelf components, incorporates tested systems already in place, and uses new technological applications. It is the development side of the equation rather than research that now needs attention and focus.
The Crisis Communications Management Architecture
Central to the concept of the crisis communications management system is the NII initiative that can provide the opportunity to make dramatic steps forward in crisis information handling. Let us envision this new information and communications support system as succeeding grids laid one on the other. The first layer of the grid is in space. It consists of space imaging and sensor information in all its multiforms. The second layer is a seamless communications grid, transparent to the operator. This communications grid contains virtual networks within the tactical area as well as national networks. The third and final layer is the tactical grid from which we conduct the crisis operations.
How then do we link all this information into one understandable "picture" of the crisis for decisionmakers? To do this our communications architecture must provide both decisionmakers and tactical users with a picture of the crisis that artificially replicates the reality of the emergency. This suggested civilian crisis
communications management system is patterned upon the successful Copernicus architecture of the U.S. Navy (USN, 1993). The brain child of Vice Admiral Jerry O. Tuttle (now retired), Copernicus was developed while Tuttle was director for naval space and electronic warfare. It is considered a communications milestone for the Information Age. Interestingly, the similarities in operational needs and constraints between electronic warfare and crisis management are greater than the differences. The most obvious difference, other than scale, is that the end result of crisis management is safety and recovery, rather than destruction. Although the end result is different, the methods of communication and information exchange are remarkably similar.
The crisis communications management system must supply a doctrinal, organizational, and technological management system applicable across all functions, agencies, and organizations of the crisis management response, regardless of their position in it. The system must be readily adaptable across the levels of participation as the response either escalates or decreases. It must also incorporate the widest space imaging system, including the global positioning system, space imaging and interpretation, weather surveillance, and so on. The interfaces must be synergistic and seamless across the disaster area and operationally transparent to the user regardless of the affiliation, level of response, or component. In addition, the system must integrate command and control, information processing, resources and transportation, levels of responsibility, tactical operations, and on-scene data. Such capabilities must be coordinated across the crisis arena and vertically up and down the levels of stakeholders.
The Communications Grid
Central to the communications grid are the wide-area computer networks that link the commands and activities of the decisionmakers and stakeholders to the response activities at the scene of the disaster. They are configured on a regional or operational area basis and are constructed to transport, standardize, and concentrate sensor, analytic, command, support, administrative, and other data for further passage to incident commanders.
The communications grid will use current and planned common-user communications systems, such as the evolving national communications infrastructure, and the present interlinking media communications networks for multimedia communications. The National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue believes that the emergency environment will become far more data-intensive and require far more technological agility in obtaining, handling, and transmitting data than we have experienced.
A second and equally critical development over the last 10 years has been the growth of small computers, both personal computers and workstations. Although the latest growth in computers has been astronomical, we see an even greater increase in their speed and a great reduction in size. Hand-held computers will soon be in the field with nearly the same processing capability as today's desktop configurations. The incident commander does not necessarily want to sit at a screen and pull up windows. He or she will likely want a "telestrator"-type of system that enables writing on the screen and placing objectives visually to be transmitted. We must be sure that this rapid growth supports industry standards and open systems architecture.
The establishment of "information highways" and the movement toward open systems architecture make possible the aggregation of many disparate agencies and organizations. These entities, potentially involved in catastrophes and disasters, are defined not by physical boundaries but by data addresses and a common software "veneer."
The Regional Hubs
The regional hubs are regionally oriented and contain the major sensor and analytic nodes, both for state and national data. The number and nature of the regional hubs are intended to be dynamic so that the architecture can support the particular desires and needs of the area. For example, to construct a logistics, weather, planning, and/or contingency system simply means developing a software veneer for the common hardware "engines" envisioned as the building blocks of the communications grid. We can also envision contingency hubs as well as the major regional hubs.
The Command and Control Complexes
A second part of the communications grid includes the command and control complexes. For those agencies with significant areas of responsibility for civil emergency operations, such as the U.S. Air Force as executive agent for inland search and rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard in its responsibility for the maritime area, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its role in natural and man-made disaster, command complexes will be dedicated. Significant differences exist between the regional hubs and the command complexes. The regional hubs are an aggregation of "communities of interest"; the command complexes are an aggregation of command structures in the particular area of responsibility.
The Information Centers
The third part of the communications grid consists of operational information constructs, not communications networks. The regional hubs and the command complexes will share a consistent tactical picture through this series of information constructs. Like the regional hubs and the command complexes, the information centers are not physical but virtual "nets," established at the request and in the mix desired by each incident commander.
The information contained in a single node may be provided via several communications channels or vice versa. These information centers spring from an operational decision about where to send data between the emergency and the regional hub. These nodes will be thought of in three conceptual planes:
Communications consultant Charles R. Morris writes in the Los Angeles Times that the term "information highway" may not be the most appropriate description for the wireless infosphere of innumerable paths of information to any destination. He believes that "ocean" more realistically describes the processone where all data perpetually circulate until searched out and plucked down by an intelligent agent embedded in each personal data assistant (Campen, 1994a).
The information centers may support eight formations of communications services and three cases of precedence. Radio frequency (RF) communications will be undetectable, except to the designated and cooperative receiver. A glimpse of the near future includes RF signals that will all operate on top of each other, below the noise and with featureless wave forms. Parasite information will ride on carriers, and antennas will be broadband, high gain, and electronically steerable. They will be used to access multiple satellites simultaneously in various orbital planes along with terrestrial high-capacity data links (Busey, 1994).
The number of information centers will not be fixed. Instead, they will be connected for the length of time necessary to transport the data to the users for the incident and then truncate.
The information centers are classified into three broad categoriesa menu is a good analogyby "communities of interest."
hand, these centers are seen to be a mixture of both predetermined information services (perhaps associated with Standing Operations Procedures) and virtual information services created dynamically only for the duration of a particular event. These centers can comprise both preexisting and user-created information groups.
The Tactical Grid
The tactical grid is conceived as a wide-area system, a network of small communications links that tie all units operating in one tactical area together regardless of the agency or function. The differences between the communications grid and the tactical grid are functional. The communications grid provides connectivity, which facilitates the movement of information among operators and analysts. The tactical grid, alternatively, connects systems among operational units to provide information across the scene of the crisis. A good analogy for the tactical grid is a power grid. When computers of different makes and operating systems are plugged into electric power outlets, they get a common energy system. By connecting dissimilar systems across the tactical grid, we are connecting platform sensors, fire, medical, and law enforcement units, main computers and electronic subsystems, and so on.
Thinking of the diversity of sensors, communications, and resource systems as grids overlying the tactical crisis arena provides a readily understandable way of viewing the myriad of assets and stakeholders in the crisis communications infrastructure. Operationally, the impact is that dissimilar resources and/or units can be connected in the tactical grid, imposed over the operating area as though they were joining a regional power grid. This link would occur simultaneously, allowing the operators of those resources to plug into the space and communications grids.
The architecture of the tactical command center (TCC) is intended to serve as the "nerve center" for the incident commander and his units in the response arena. This means that the TCC is not only the intelligence center for tactical command, but also the tactical center for individual units and the multiagency incident command areas (MACS). The TCC provides the tactical displays, integrated information management, and accessibility to tactical communications in support of the response missions. It provides the requisite tactical connectivity to units, to other area commanders, and to the command complex of the decisionmakers. Architecturally the TCC is analogous to the command complex. Both will share a consistent tactical picture and connect responsible agencies to the stakeholders, at the tactical level and regional levels.
The essence of crisis management is an effective information-handling capability. Command must have it; analysis must have it; tactical operators must have it. Without a true picture of the emergency event, we are playing 1990s scenarios with 1940s technology. Why do we continue to do this? Possibly it is because, for many years, a lack of robust communications has prevented obtaining any understandable "picture" of emergency incidents. Routinely, it was three and sometimes four days before the full scope of a disaster became apparent. Responders did what they couldsaved as many lives as possible, shored up as many levees as appeared to be endangered, housed and fed survivors, and hoped that the body count would not be too high when the water receded. Then came the invention of the Minicam, the personal computer, and cellular communications and their proliferation in every aspect of our lives.
Now emergency managers realize that it is possible to obtain a rapid and clearer picture of a disaster. You can watch from space in real time the rise of the Mississippi or a hurricane bearing down on the Florida coast. You can compare snow loads in the Sierra this year with measurable images from last year. You are a visceral participant in each and every disaster through the convenience of CNN! And yet, we still have not applied these tools and capabilities to the actual command and control of emergency response operations.
It is definitely past wake-up time for emergency managers. If they can think of fire trucks, helicopters, and ambulances as "rescue platforms," the electronic equivalent is the communications platform. It is at this level
that systems architecture, programs, and technology converge in a level of detail that does not require specialized expertise.
It is in this tier that critical paths in operations, programming, and technologies converge and become most obvious to managers. This idea that electronic platforms are as essential as other rescue platforms will allow us to approach design and installation of the Crisis Communications Management system. At its simplest, the advent of crisis management is both the recognition of the requirement and the means to operate in the electromagnetic spectra and in space against the increased calamities threatening our traditional economy.
When we think operationally of the Crisis Communications Management architecture as having a space grid of diverse sensors, supported by a dynamic, multinode communications grid, we are conceiving and operating the complex and geographically disparate electronics of today's emergency response as a system to present the crisis scene as it really appears, containing all relevant information in a transparent, easily understood format.
It is the C4I system, designed to make communications transparent to the user and all sensors available in common formats, that allows us to conceive of the space and communications grids and of information movement between them. The Crisis Communications Management system has been designed to include both local and wide-area networks that have tied different systems and hardware together, along with higher bandwidth communications capabilities and more efficient software. We have reengineered the work processes for improved information handling.
During the twentieth century, disaster response has moved out of the trenches of land-based operations. With the addition of aircraft to traditional rescue platforms, there was an exponential increase in the space over which we could travel to perform rescue operations. But with this increase in the area of operations, commanders lost the ability to view the catastrophe as a whole. Now, with our latest technology, we can again provide the incident commanders with a visual picture of the scene of operations. To illustrate this, our paper ends with a story quoted from the U.S. Navy's publication SONATA (USN, 1993), a presentation of the plan for naval communications through the next century.
Two hundred years ago when Lord Nelson walked out on the deck of HMSVictory, the tacticalbattle space was obvious. He could see it and share that perception both withhis captains and hisenemy. The advent of carrier air power in World War II changed that. Because acommander can nolonger see the battle space, perhaps hundreds of miles away from where hestands, it must be artificiallyreconstructed for him.
Today that reconstruct is accomplished by messages arriving over differentnetworks, in diverseformats and with different time delays. Electronic communications, imagery andradar systems, untilrecently were displayed on separate screens open to mismanagement. Reality wasreplaced by anartificial view that was too complex, too redundant, and too slow.
Now we think operationally of the battle space as having diverse sensors,supported by adynamic, multiconstellation communications grid. We are (whether we recognizeit or not) conceivingand operating the complex and geographically disparate electronics of modernwarfare as a system topresent the battle space as it really appearsjust as it did to Nelson.
The above paragraphs relate to the use of advanced systems designed for electronic communications support in time of war. These same technologies are available to civilians. Although a few of the concepts are still in development, many are "off the shelf" today. Why aren't we using them to save more of our own people? It seems worth doing to us. To again quote Adm. Jeremiad, "I urge you to leap into another dimension of capability by simultaneously expanding the window of our technological might and our strategic thought." We say, press on!
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