NZDF takes SitaWare to the cloud in innovative response to COVID-19 pandemic
New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been held up as an example of how the virus can be effectively managed.
The New Zealand government acted quickly to lockdown and contain COVID-19, and subsequently casualties and incidences of infection have been limited. Its actions have included an inter-agency approach to tackling the pandemic, and like many countries this has drawn on the expertise of the armed forces.
Under ‘Operation PROTECT’, each branch of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has been allocated one of three geographical regions to operate in and provide its support as a task group – Northern (navy), Central (air force), and Southern (army).
A range of data sources were brought into SitaWare, including from the EROAD fleet management application.
(credit: New Zealand Army)
For its part, the New Zealand Army has leveraged its experience of using Systematic’s SitaWare Headquarters solution to provide all those involved in managing the situation – military and government agencies across all task groups – with a comprehensive Common Operating Picture (COP) that can be easily accessed, updated, and managed.
Working with Systematic’s in-country team, the army was able to determine user requirements and establish an unclassified cloud-based COP within 48 hours, explains Lieutenant Colonel Vance Feeney, Technical Director of the Network Enabled Army programme.
“What we were missing was an unclassified COP, so the Systematic team very quickly set up SitaWare Headquarters in the Microsoft Azure cloud,” Lt Col Feeney said, noting that this was developed from an existing proof of concept. “That allowed any of our all-of-government personnel to access the SitaWare Headquarters COP through a web browser.”
The second component was to ensure that a restricted COP also existed, this was built on a SitaWare Headquarters training instantiation that was available and enabled the COP to be shared with HQ Joint Forces New Zealand through interoperability with the Global Command and Control System – Joint (GCCS-J) solution, which is employed at that level.
Lt Col Feeney points to what he describes as a number of ‘big wins’ in SitaWare Headquarters use in providing the COP. One being the TASKORG and Layer Plan features in SitaWare Headquarters, which were used to establish and organise task units and the information that might be needed to be drawn upon, including GIS map overlays of important COVID-19 data.
A new address and location search tool created by the Systematic team was another key development, Lt Col Feeney noted. As there is no common approach to mapping between the emergency services – and even across the armed forces – this new tool was able to draw upon all of the different data sources used, “The team got all of the information from various databases, fed it into SitaWare and essentially created what was very much a ‘Google maps’ user friendly way of locating any kind of address.”
A de facto blue force tracking capability was also brought into the COP, Lt Col Feeney explained, via the EROAD vehicle management system that has been issued to the NZDF for managing vehicle fleets. “Using the EROAD API all of this information could be transferred into SitaWare .... Any of the information from EROAD, where the vehicle is, how fast it is going, all sorts of metadata on the vehicle could be added. This allows the task group headquarters to manage and see where all of their vehicles are.” The integration of the EROAD data, Lt Col Feeney said, has proven very useful to commanders and provided them with a real-time understanding, adding that with some decluttering it could even be used to manage a fleet of vehicles.
The army’s experience in operating SitaWare has played no small part in its ability to quickly stand up the COP. Indeed, the service has experience of providing a cross-agency solution from earlier humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, such as New Zealand’s response to Cyclone Gita, where a multi-agency team that included representatives of the NZDF, fire and emergency services, and Ministry of Health, among others, deployed to Tonga.
The SitaWare-based COP has, in effect, enabled an ‘intelligence picture’ of the COVID-19 situation in New Zealand to be developed, Lt Col Feeney explained, noting that the COP was able to ingest and present a wide range of critical data, ranging from the status of assets and personnel, to incidences of infection, and even the recognised maritime and air pictures for New Zealand.