Software aids search for Canadians in tsunami nations

In Asia, six Canadians are dead or presumed dead as a result of the tsunami, 15 have not been located but there is grave concern for their safety, while a further 24 remain unaccounted for, but there is no information placing them in the affected areas.

So how does Foreign Affairs know

all this – considering 4,000 case files were created to locate Canadians in the area?

The software created to track Canadians abroad was developed in 1993 for the purpose of providing more effective tools to consular officers in the field. The software is now being used in the U.K. and the Netherlands to track citizens abroad – including during the tsunami crisis.

The software, called COSMOS, developed by Ottawa-based WorldReach Software, is accessible to all Canadian government offices abroad that provide consular services. It’s been used for a number of crises in the past, including 9/11, the evacuation of Canadians in Haiti due to civil unrest, the evacuation of Canadians from the Cayman Islands and Grenada due to Hurricane Ivan, and during terrorist attacks such as the Madrid train bombing.

“The software is specialized to provide assistance during emergencies or crises,” says Gordon Wilson, president of WorldReach Software. “It could be large scale like the recent tsunami but most of the time it’s not the large-scale stuff, it’s the individual (or) family type level.” This includes the backpacker who loses his passport, to tracking an individual to pass on an urgent message from home. “It can be arrests and detentions overseas, it could be kidnappings or child abductions on the darker side of things, or it could be a large-scale crisis – it could be a bus accident or a plane crash or earthquake or natural disaster,” he says.

The system is used by Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates for passport management, case management and contingency planning, according to Scott Corcoran, deputy director of emergency services with the Consular Affairs Bureau, Foreign Affairs Canada. Em Serv is a new tool used by the Foreign Affairs Operations Centre in Ottawa to log incoming calls; it is linked to COSMOS and captures, manages and tracks information on an individual during a crisis situation.

During the tsunami, 40 volunteers worked in the centre, entering data into Em Serve; that data was then transferred to COSMOS. “On the back-end we’re able to look at all of the case entries and then sort them and see which ones might be duplicates and then merge those,” he says. “It’s a way to filter all of the information that’s coming in during a crisis.” It’s also a way to track who’s leaving a certain country and to keep records of emergency passports that may have been issued during a crisis situation.

“There’s a central database that collects all the information from all over the world through a global network,” says Wilson, “and that information is shared through all of the points of service so everybody is operating in real time with the latest and most consolidated information.”

The COSMOS tool includes CAMANT, a case management system for day-to-day cases; ROCA, the Registration of Canadians Abroad database; PMP, the Passport Management Program for passports issued abroad; CONPLAN, the Contingency Planning program that houses contingency plans developed by Embassies abroad; and GENSEARCH, the Generalized Search system that allows users to conduct one search to retrieve any matching files in CAMANT, ROCA or PMP. A feature called Soundex will search for all names that are similar in pronunciation.

“Often you have multiple people calling for the same person, so it’s very important to pull the total picture together,” says Wilson. “The issue of duplicate names is certainly a significant one – people will call in and use different birth dates or call in slight variations in the name, especially in many countries where the last names are very similar.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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