Swarming: A new model of collaboration

Rather than have an overarching authority decide what information will be distributed and who will receive it, the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) will operate based on a concept known as "swarming."

The Army originally developed the technique to allow separate units in the field to connect directly to one another to coordinate attacks, rather than go through a central command structure. Swarming has been shown to drastically cut the time needed to respond to a given situation.

"Each person [involved in responding to a situation] has their own version of the [virtual] work space on their computer, so that one person could be looking at files while another is looking at photos and e-mailing at the same time," said Dave Fowler, vice president of marketing and business development at Groove Networks Inc. The company's peer-to-peer technology is used in HSIN. "It allows you to see who is in that virtual work space and allows you to speak with them."

A more centralized method would take too much time in setting up communications, verifying and adding people to teams. Instead, the plan for HSIN is to allow people to swarm around a notification of an event that appears on their systems, Fowler said.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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