The Marine Corps is in the final stages of transitioning an ordinary, commercial off-the-shelf smartphone and web application into a proactive tool that enhances situational awareness and response efforts critical to civil-military assistance and relief operations.
The Marine Corps civil affairs community deals heavily in data collection, assessments and situation reports, regardless of the event or emergency. Historically, these time-consuming accounts and descriptions were authored using pen and paper, followed by tedious transcription, presentations and reports designed give commanders visibility of civil needs.
Unfortunately, new or updated information could quickly render those reports obsolete. That's what MARCIMS, the Marine Civil Information Management System, was designed to prevent.
"MARCIMS is an automated means for civil affairs Marines to do data collection and process civil information,” said Maj. Mike Ohleger Jr. “It creates products that can be used as decision-making tools for commanders conducting civil operations and affairs."
Ohleger, a civil affairs officer, is the Marine Corps Systems Command project officer for MARCIMS. He is concluding the introduction and final deployment of smartphones equipped with a collaborative, user-produced and edited content management, or “wiki,” application into civil-military assistance operations across the Marine Corps.
"Virtually everything is automated," Ohleger said. "With MARCIMS, they're able to collect data on single devices using standardized civil, text-based information forms developed by the Marine Corps Civil-Military Operations School as a guide. That information then gets populated on the web portal, a server that lives on a commercial cloud. From there, a variety of products are built and shared."
Designed to be user-friendly and intuitive for Marines, the MARCIMS software application is based on a semantic wiki similar to what is used for Wikipedia. Field information and data are collected in a structured format, leveraging a robust repository of social-cultural information in context. Unlike other applications, however, the MARCIMS wiki application also captures and identifies relationships within and between pages, making the data more accessible and understandable.
Indeed, the real power of the MARCIMS application is that every form that is submitted by civil affairs personnel can be queried. Once a query has been built and imported into a product or presentation used by a commander, a simple refresh automatically feeds new or updated data into an existing product, such as data-driven presentation charts.
Since civil affairs personnel use off-the-shelf android smartphones, they can also shoot on-the-scene pictures and video. These visual media can then be paired with the forms and dispatched through the MARCIMS cloud portal, further enhancing the content provided to decision-makers.
"We want the Marines to use this system for all aspects," Ohleger said. "It negates the requirement for having to carry a notebook and camera, or a notebook and a voice recorder if you're conducting interviews. You now can do it all on the device."
Since all the collected data and streamlined end products are living within MARCIMS, they can easily be shared not only among the civil affairs community and commanders, but with non-government organizations and allies involved in humanitarian assistance and relief operations. Moreover, for future events, new civil affairs assessment teams do not have to start from scratch. Anything previously collected remains available within the system as data for query.
"We're working toward our full operational capability," Ohleger said. "Because of the technology, what we consider to be full operational capability is the software. We expect to be fully operational capable across the active and Reserve Marine Corps by September of this year or sooner."
Using a real-world scenario, MARCIMS just successfully concluded its third field user evaluation at Camp Pendleton. The I Marine Expeditionary Force civil affairs Marines and Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity cleared the way for the full operational capability release in late summer.
As part of the field user evaluations, MCTSSA has also conducted developmental tests against 96 requirements and 266 system performance specifications on the MARCIMS application. MCTSSA has even vetted standard browsers used around the world to ensure the MARCIMS application will work on any of them. Additionally, MCTSSA tapped its organic Operating Forces Tactical Systems Support Center to serve as the help desk for MARCIMS users around the world.