Mark Prutsalis, left, who prepares world press reports for civilian and military organizations, and Sean Colbath, who works on computer programs that turn foreign speech into written English, discussed ways to combine their skills Monday as part of Strong Angel II.

Agencies show off
foreign-aid tech in Kona

KEAHOLE, Hawaii >> After word came down from the Defense Department recently that the United States could have done better with humanitarian aid in Iraq, a superior officer turned to Navy Cmdr. Eric Rasmussen and said, "Hey, doc, humanitarian support, that's like a doc thing, right?"

So Rasmussen, fleet surgeon of the 3rd Fleet, got the job of putting together a demonstration of how technology can coordinate humanitarian relief. The event was named Strong Angel II after another humanitarian exercise held on the Big Island four years ago, also headed by Rasmussen.

This week's event at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Kona cost $150,000, consisted of 83 tasks and was put on by 40 people from 22 agencies from six countries in five days, he said.

The demonstration was for representatives of various civilian and government organizations, including the United Nations, NATO, the Defense Department and some nongovernmental organizations. Besides showing how technology can help efforts, Strong Angel II also was a way to test the effectiveness of products and technology.

Strong Angel II concludes today with a limited open house for teachers and emergency responders, said coordinator Gay Matthews.

A major problem for Americans in Iraq is that the people speak Arabic. Yet the solution is already available.

Sean Colbath, of BBN Technologies, demonstrated software that can take spoken Arabic, turn it into written Arabic and then translate it to English. The product can be a crude, but it's good enough to indicate if a human translator is needed.

Robert Kirkpatrick, of Groove Networks, demonstrated how relief information can be sent from laptop computer to laptop computer, using wireless technology, small generators and no central server. This helps because a server could be destroyed in a terrorist attack.

It is difficult to say whether enough food and medicine went to Iraq, because relief agencies were not coordinating with each other, Rasmussen said. Serverless computers, as provided by Groove, should improve that.

Paperwork can also be a nightmare. A committee had created an assessment form with 312 items on it, he said. Rasmussen simplified it, then sent a Kona high school participant in Civil Air Patrol to question random people on Kailua-Kona streets.

It worked. The 17-year-old student had no trouble getting answers that made sense.

Strong Angel II also discovered a test product that did not work. The "culturally neutral" plastic shelters set up in the Kona sun turned out to be hothouses.


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