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Adapting a new communication strategy in an established organization.

Last month, I took on the role of Chief of Staff for the Rocky Mountain Region (RMR) of the Civil Air Patrol. It has been busy while I get my feet under me in this new role. One of the areas, I felt we could immediately improve was in the area of communications and document handling.  With all organizational change, it will take time to make some of these changes. There are a number of people who have served in their roles for a long time and may be reluctant to adopt new methods. A couple of days ago, I sent a message to the entire staff recommending some methods for communication both internally and externally.  Here are those methods and my justifications:

Email – This will often be the primary means of communication especially when a record of the conversation is important. Unfortunately, the problem with email is that it is restricted between parties and some essential members may be left out of the loop of important conversations due to oversight or political intent. In an effort to ensure all members are at least accessible, members were asked to ensure that their correct email address is recorded on the RMR Roster.  This is important because there is not one central email domain for the staff; each member uses a personal email address or creates one specifically for their role. The roster is shared through Google Docs and requires permission to access it, so that we can control private information to a need to know basis.

Staff members are encouraged to contact their functional areas both above and below them. They should use at a minimum email to help address issues as well as pass on information.

Skype – Skype is a powerful tool for synchronous communications. With Skype, the unit and members can conduct conference calls for 24 people at no cost. With a paid subscription, the conference call can also include non-Skype users. I have been encouraging members to create a Skype account because of added functionality.  Skype also has an instant messaging capability that can be used one-on-one or in groups. During recent search missions, we have used Skype, specifically the chat feature to support mission staff operations. By creating a call group, members of the group text input into a common area that can archived as historical transcripts.

We are also including the Skype account as part of our RMR roster. Skype can be accessed at http://beta.skype.com/en/ Note: Skype is free. You do not need to pay for the premium version.

DropboxDropbox is a great tool for sharing large documents. It also helps with version control. Ideally, it is installed as a program on your computer, but it can also be accessed through the Web. With Dropbox, we are able to share documents across a team. Because the document is updated automatically, each member has access to the most current version. Presently, documents are typically shared through email, and it is difficult to maintain version control.

During a recent search mission that spanned two states, the mission staff was able to share Google Earth KMZ files rapidly between mission bases and staff members. This made it easy to keep everyone abreast of changes to the mission and search status.

Again, Dropbox accounts are noted on the RMR roster. Dropbox can be accessed at https://www.dropbox.com/ Note: Dropbox is free. You do not need to pay for the premium version.

Google Docs (AKA Google Drive) – Google Docs is a great tool for collaborating on documents as well as sharing final results on the Web. It also helps with version control. Google Docs is accessed through the Web, and you can control access to documents; this access can be from a public setting to only specific people. Google Drive is where you can access all the documents shared with you.

The most powerful aspect of this tool, in my opinion, is the collaboration feature. By using a Google document, a team can edit a document all at the same time. For example, instead of distributing a meeting agenda, the meeting agenda is created in Google Docs, and participants can add to it prior to the meeting and as the meeting is in progress. The agenda then easily moves from agenda status to minute status.

As with other tools preferred Google Docs accounts are added to the RMR roster. Google Docs can be accessed at https://drive.google.com/ Note: Google Docs is free.

Calendar – The calendar will note events and deadlines as we are aware of them. We are using a Google Calendar to record events. Not only is the calendar available to the public, but it can be embedded into our Web pages as needed. Also, individuals can subscribe to the calendar and can display this calendar along with their personal calendar. Staff members and the wing commanders are encouraged to submit events to be placed on the calendar. The calendar can be accessed at the following URL in the event you wish to subscribe to it. https://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=3jk96su67rb51lidmlckj40o2c%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America/Los_Angeles

Operations Bulletin – The Ops Bulletin is designed to be a communication tool to help remind unit commanders of upcoming requirements or scheduled events. I will be asking staff members for input on the 20th of each month, with a deadline of the 25th of the month. The input can be upcoming events, tips for the specific functional area, alerts to reg changes, trends in CIs and Air Force Evals, etc. Here is an example of the recent Ops Bulletin, November 2012.

Facebook – Facebook is a tool to highlight the good things that are happening across the region. It also can be used to generate buzz about upcoming events, as well as post topical items for extra emphasis. Our Facebook fan page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/RMRCAP.

Ideally, I would like functional areas to be able to post appropriate content to this page; however, I realize that not everyone is comfortable with Facebook. If individuals are not comfortable posting to Facebook, they are encourages to submit input through Major Nash, the Director of Public Affairs or send it directly to me.

Website – The Website is primarily for static or infrequent updated information to be shared with the public. I am working to bring it up to date. Ideally, it will be a place where we can share beneficial tools, documents, checklists, etc for region wide use. Our current site can be found at http://rmrcap.org/

Within the first month of taking on this role, these are the methods of communication that we will be using as a start. I am interested to hear about other methods or strategies to run an organization dispersed over a large geographical area with varying degrees of technology and technology literacy.

How technology helped us find a missing aircraft

Google Earth Overlays for missing aircraft

Google Earth overlays for missing aircraft

On Tuesday evening, I was asked by the Civil Air Patrol Incident Commander (IC), Lt Col Mike Carlson to assist in the search for a missing aircraft. A Piper PA-32 was overdue on a flight from Dodge City, KS to Casper, WY. The aircraft was found on Thursday afternoon through the dedicated efforts of all involved. As a the planning section chief  (PSC) for the mission, I was responsible for helping to narrow the search and recommend future search areas. To accomplish this, we leveraged all the technology at our disposal. Here are the steps we took, the technologies used, and the lessons learned.

Google Earth

Google Earth was perhaps the most effective tool we had out our disposal. On Google Earth I plotted every detail I possibly could, and as a team we viewed the results of the plots to make search decisions. Once tasked as PSC, I first plotted the departure and arrival airports and the suspected flight path.

As the mission developed, we captured more information. The next major piece of information plotted were the NTAP points (radar points) of the suspected route of travel for the missing aircraft. I plotted each point and drew a path connecting each point, this showed us where to start our search.

CAP Grid System

CAP Grid System

We next overlayed the CAP Grid System for our area of search. This allowed us to rapidly determine search grids for our pilots. Using the grid system as a template, I shadowed the areas searched and proposed to be searched. This helped to tell a story and easily identified future search grids.

As the search progressed, we received input from ground teams in the area of sightings they were making. I would plot the coordinates of the ground team along the direction of the sighting and distance. After the mission concluded, one of the ground teams provide me with their GPS tracks. These were uploaded into Google Earth.

We each piece of the puzzle, we were able to narrow the search to being within .15 miles of the actual missing plane location.

Google earth makes it convenient to turn the display of an item on and off depending on the need. One of the key features that helped to quickly narrow the search was the 3-D view of the terrain. By changing the view from 2-D to 3-D, we were able to rule out proposed search areas.

SPOT

We use SPOT to keep an eye on our aircraft in flight. Approximately every 10 minutes, the SPOT device transmitted a signal that is displayed on a Web site we followed. In addition to regular status checks on the radio, the SPOT device allowed us to follow our aircraft in flight.

Upon the completion of each day’s sorties, we downloaded the tracks from SPOT in a KML file and posted it to the mission Google Earth KMZ file.

Dropbox

We used Dropbox to store documents vital to all essential personnel. Primarily, we used Dropbox to share the ever changing Google Earth KMZ file. Each time Google Earth was updated, we updated Dropbox. Additionally, we posted photos taken from the search aircraft into Dropbox.

Dropbox is a great tool for collaboration with a dispersed team. Our team was certainly dispersed; the IC was in Cody, the Public Information Officer (PIO) was in Cheyenne, and I was in Laramie. Additionally, we had aircrews flying out of Powell, Gillette, Casper, and Casper. We were also working with the Albany County Sheriff Department and search and rescue teams.

Skype

Skype was our primary means of communications among the mission staff. We created a Skype group that was used throughout the mission. Except for an occasional conference call, typically twice a day, we extensively used the chat features to keep the team up to date. At the end of each day, we copied the chat and saved it as a text file to the mission files.

Using the premium features of Skype, we were able to conduct conference calls with all essential agencies. The IC could conference in both Skype users and other phone numbers.

Because I could access Skype from all my computers, my iPad, and smartphone, I was always up to date on the status of the mission.

Evernote and Google Alerts

With Evernote and Google Alerts, we were able to track and capture all the news stories relating to the search. Here are the details for capturing important information to Evernote. I track and save all news feeds with the terms “Wyoming” and “Civil Air Patrol” in them.

WyoLink

WyoLink radio system was essential to the IC and his ability to communicate with aircrews, ground teams, and other essential agencies. Other systems have been substandard to this effective system. WyoLink has been a welcome augmentation to other systems we use such as mutual aid, and the CAP system.

Lessons Learned

This was perhaps one of the most effective and educational searches that we had carried out. However, there are always lessons learned.

  • I could have changed locations and integrated with the Albany County Sheriff to demonstrate how we are tracking the mission. I will still do this as well as establish relations for future missions.
  • We could have established a Dropbox folder specifically for this mission and get it shared to all parties earlier.
  • Take advantage of the 3-D capability of Google Earth earlier in the mission.
  • Work to get everyone on Skype chat to keep everyone informed.
  • Clear out Skype timely each morning.

I learned a lot on this mission and wanted to share my lessons learned.

 

My favorite iPad apps. What are yours?

The other day, I was writing about the new New Media Consortium 2012 Horizon Report, and I briefly spoke about mobile apps I use. In this post, I would like to share the iPad apps that I basically could not live without. A little melodramatic, still, they are really useful apps.

Apps for getting things done

Evernote Evernote Evernote is a great application for saving everything. I have written quite a lot about Evernote in the past, and it still remains one of my essential applications. I have Evernote loaded on all my computers, my iPad, and my smartphone. I use it to save notes, images, and ideas related to anything and everything in my life. I have recently started to use it in conjunction with the Getting Things Done  (GTD) system, and it is working out great.
EgretList EgretList – Egretlist is closely integrated with Evernote, and basically takes my GTD system in Evernote, and turns it into a checklist or to do list where I can check things off.
Dropbox Dropbox – I use Dropbox to store everything I want to work on away from my primary computer, whatever that happens to be. It is a great convenience to be able to access files from all my computers, iPad, and smartphone. Dropbox is useful to collaborate with multiple teammates.

Reading Apps

Kindle Kindle – My favorite ebook application is Kindle. I currently have 40 books loaded on my Kindle and I have read or I am currently in the process of reading them all. I have become a more active reader because of the convenience of having a stack of books always at my fingertips.
Google Books Google Books – Because not all books are available through the Kindle app, I have also downloaded books to the Google Book app. I prefer the Kindle app because of the highlighting and note taking features. Still, I am able to get books I want to read.
Google Search Google Search – I use this application to read my Google+ account and for Google Reader. When I am away from my computer, I use this program to stay abreast of new findings in the world. Each program allows me to forward to my email or send a post to Twitter.
Flipboard Flipboard – Flipboard is my favorite way to read the posts I get from Twitter. Flipboard presents the information as a newspaper. The Twitter posts are expanded so that you can read part of an attached article, and you can see included pictures. You can set up Flipboard pages based on hashtags, search queries, Twitter lists, or your entire Twitter stream.
Hootsuite Hootsuite– If I just want to look at my Twitter streams and queries, then Hootsuite is my tool of choice. With Hootsuite, I can follow all of my Twitter accounts as well as set up unique queries and lists.
iBooks iBooks – If I need to have a PDF accessible anytime and anywhere, then I throw it into iBooks. I have placed the entire Civil Air Patrol regulation library into iBooks; it makes for a very quick reference.
Zite Zite – Zite is very similar to Flipboard, and it is the newest application I have added in this category.  With Zite, you can sign up for a number of attractive categories such as Arts and Culture or Social Media. Another great tool to glean new information from the Internet.

Other Useful or Fun Apps

AppStart AppStart – AppStart is a great program, especially for iPad newbies. AppStart recommends great iPad applications based on your needs. If I need to make recommendations to others based on unique needs, I first crosscheck my recommendations with AppStart. AppStart makes recommendations from the first ten apps to download to apps for sports, reading, music, email, and countless other topics.
Skype Skype – Since I use Skype as my phone in the office and home, I might as well have all my contacts available to me while on the road. I have Skype loaded on all my computers, my iPad, and my smartphone. Skype provides the added convenience of being able to hold an impromptu conference call.
Hotels Hotels – While on the road, I use this app to reserve rooms. So far, I have not been disappointed in what it has found for me.
Weatherbug Weatherbug – This app keeps me informed about the weather. The weather radar feature lets me determine the intensity and duration of a storm. I have all the areas of Wyoming plugged into it so I can see what trouble I will be getting into.
TripIt TripIt – I use this app to see where my friends are traveling as well as find people I know in places I am going. I am always looking for company for a meal.
Ancestory Ancestory – This is a great little application that ties into Ancestory.com. I use it to track and work on my family tree. It is nice to sit down with a relative and be able to show them the tree as well as add to it.
WoW Armory WoW Armory – This application allows me to check up on updates from my World of Warcraft Guild. I can check on various achievements, events, and messages without having to leave the game or while I am out on the road. I used it when working as a guild officer for Azeroth Training Society.

Well, these are the apps I use, what apps do you recommend and why?

How Technology Helped our Air Force Operations Evaluation

Civil Air Patrol Logo

Civil Air Patrol

Wyoming Wing of the Civil Air Patrol just completed its 2011 Air Force Operations Evaluation, and received an overall rating of Successful. This rating was in part to the successful use of technology throughout the exercise. Here is what we used an how it helped.

Skype – Starting on the first day of the exercise, we used Skype to conduct our evening meetings. Skype is a program where you can conduct conference calls through your computer. With a paid membership, you can get your own telephone number and call telephone numbers. With Skype, we were able to conduct a conference call each evening and stay abreast of the various scenarios we were tracking.  You can download Skype from skype.com.

Dropbox – The second program we leveraged heavily during the evaluation was Dropbox. Dropbox is a virtual storage drive that has residence in the cloud. We provided access to this shared drive to our entire team. The team could then add documents they needed during the evaluation. These documents varied from various forms for the Incident Action Plan (IAP) to Google Earth overlays. In the event of a power outage, Dropbox was still available on the local computers. Changes to files were automatically synced with the other computers. You can get a Dropbox account from dropbox.com.

Google Earth – Google Earth was the most recent addition to our arsenal. With Google Earth, we were able to create various overlays to aid in mission planning. These overlays included infrastructure like dams, bridges, and power plants, which were used as targets throughout the week. We were able to create an overlay showing all airports in Wyoming. When we received flood and missing aircraft scenarios, we built overlays to show affected areas, routes of flight, weather, and proposed search areas. With Google Earth, we were able to rapidly measure distance from one point to another; this helped us determine our time on target times. You can get Google Earth from earth.google.com.

SPOT – SPOT is a GPS transmitter that allows us to keep track of our aircraft and ground teams while they are away from mission base. Approximately every 10 minutes the transmitter sends out a signal. The result of the signal is reflected on a Web site that shows the location of each device and its travel path. In the event we lose contact with one of aircraft or ground teams, we have a set of grid coordinates where we can start looking. You can get SPOT from findmespot.com.

Assort other programs – During the week, we also used a number of other programs to help us achieve our mission. We used Microsoft Excel to plan mission times, calculate our finances, and track target lists. We used a special spreadsheet developed by the Lubbock Fire Department to build our IAP.  This spreadsheet has saved me countless hours because of its updating capabilities. I use PDF Split and Merge to merge a series of PDF documents into one PDF file. We also use a number of Civil Air Patrol specific programs from WMIRS and e-services to the IMU program. IMU allows us to cleanly create lists of personnel, vehicles, and aircraft assigned to the mission base. IMU can be downloaded from http://wmu.nat.cap.gov/.

With a wing as small as Wyoming, it is imperative to gain whatever advantage possible. Technology allows us to gain an advantage especially when short staffed. Each new technology we have used has helped make mission planning and execution easier.

Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 61,000 members nationwide. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 113 lives in fiscal year 2010. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to the more than 26,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs. CAP has been performing missions for America for 69 years. It is a major partner of Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. For more information on Civil Air Patrol, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com or www.capvolunteernow.com.