In 1994 Microsoft launched a comprehensive and expensive global marketing campaign. One of the elements was the slogan: “Where do you want to go today?” The slogan was declared to be no less than genius. It was picked up by the “Advertising Slogan Hall of Fame” and actively used as a slogan for Microsoft for ten consecutive years.
During this period, we at Teleplan were in the middle of redecorating our office and found inspiration from several sources, including Microsoft. Amongst our core products are information systems for command and control, and thus the path towards this slogan wasn’t too long:
“Who do you want to command and control today?”
This blog is centered around exactly that: Command and control, and technology that supports this process. In the following text, we use the abbreviation C2 for the process of “Command and Control”. When we later discuss technology and supporting systems to execute C2, the abbreviations increases – both in numbers and complexity. You might have heard about C4IS?
The search term “Command and Control” presents about 60 million results on Google, while the Norwegian translation “Kommando og Kontroll” results in about 320.000 searches. Independent of language, the majority of these searches is related to military organizations, activities, and systems. However, the term is increasingly used in other sectors as well.
Demystifying the C2-term
Acute situations and happenings where human lives or significant material values are threatened, must be handled in an efficient way. Citizens should trust that relevant authorities have plans, processes, and support systems to handle this. The more serious and time-critical the situation is, the more important good governance and coordinated utilization of community resources will be.
C2 in military operations
But let’s take a couple of steps back. We can start demystifying the C2-term with three concrete and easy to understand examples. Those who have been watching the American TV-series “Madam Secretary” might remember episodes where the American president, with his closest associates, are monitoring and participating in the hunt for some of the world’s worst terrorists.
From the White House Situation Room, he orders the liquidation of the wanted terrorist, even if it involves a risk of losing other lives. The operation takes place in a country many time zones away. One of the world's most advanced C2 systems provides the president with the opportunity to observe how the drones (unmanned aircraft) find, follow and finally, at his command, kills the terrorist.
In this example, established and advanced processes for command and control are practiced. The decision maker is one identified person ( "Commander-in-Chief"), who has access to detailed and updated information. He has the authority and lines of communication to directly order the use of all appropriate means to reach the goal.
In military organisations, command and control are incorporated and consistent, and the management process is supported by increasingly sophisticated systems. C2 is to this day considered to be of such importance that it now constitutes a separate target for military operations. Whoever can paralyze an enemy’s C2 systems and abilities will deprive, or greatly reduce, his chances for maximum utilization of personnel, weapons, equipment, information and time.
C2 in natural disasters
At the other end of the scale, but nonetheless a good example of the importance of command and control, we’ll imagine a severe flood situation in a town in Norway.
Residential and commercial buildings are demolished, railway tracks and main roads become impassable, vast parts of the power and telephone networks fall out. People, livestock, as well as pets, must be evacuated. A number of government agencies have shared responsibilities in dealing with such a situation:
- The affected municipality is responsible for crisis management, fire and rescue and primary health services.
- The police may act based on extended emergency powers when life and health are at risk, and may even take on full government responsibilities in the acute phase.
- The County Governor, the National Water Resources and Energy Directorate, National Rail and NPRA (Norwegian Public Roads Administration) all have important roles as counselors, coordinators and to safeguard their respective parts of the infrastructure that are critical to the community.
- Resources such as Civil Defence, Home Guard, other parts of the military defense, NGOs, entrepreneurs with machinery and equipment, and others can be called to duty to limit the damage and restore the normal situation.
The different agencies and operators have clear responsibilities and partly established and advanced processes for coordination. Many have access to a common reporting system for crisis management, whilst some have their own C2 systems optimized for its own domain.
C2 as part of search and rescue operations
A third example might be a local search- and rescue operation where a child is reported missing whilst spending time at the family’s mountain cabin. The police will be in charge of the operation.
There is poor visibility, it is cold and windy, and the terrain is difficult. As time passes the search area must be expanded. Major voluntary task forces from the Red Cross, Norwegian Rescue Dogs and people with good local knowledge can be mobilized at short notice.
How can the police get maximum efficiency out of these resources, at all times keep track of which areas are crawled, and direct emergency responders further? If the weather allows for flying, a helicopter with thermal imaging camera can be made available. But what part of the search area should be prioritized?
C2 in centralized and distributed management
The above examples describe critical situations where decisions must be made. Cooperation and coordination of resources may enhance efficiency. The actions undertaken can put response personnel and the lives of others in danger and may lead to new, significant material damage. Postponements and indecision may aggravate the situation.
C2 can be used in both centralized and distributed management. Responsible personnel with expertise and experience need to take critical decisions and initiate actions without loss of valuable time. Decisions and actions must be based on the best available, most current information. They must be able to share tasks, reports and current status. Command and Control is the best management system in such situations.
Other situations and events can be solved with other forms of leadership such as self-management, democratic polls, and even a draw – for example when the referee in the World Cup final has to take the critical decision of which football team should play with the sun in their eyes for the first 45 minutes.
In the next blog post, we will look closer at how ICT can support the command and control, highlight possibilities and limitations, discuss experiences, and user requirements. We encourage you to participate actively and constructively in the discussion.