Two years on from government's widely criticised evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has begun work on an IT system that could be used to register thousands of people eligible to be evacuated from crisis zones and track their progress to a safe place thereafter.
The platform is currently just at the “concept phase”, and the MoD recently signed a one-year contract – worth £52,150 – to progress the idea into a minimum viable product. The deal, awarded to IT firm Netpremacy, is also understood to cover the development of an alpha product that will be tested during rehearsal exercises to be held in the UK.
After this, assessments will be made as to the system’s viability for use in conflict zones or other emergency situations – which would require the technology to obtain the necessary accreditation.
It is understood that the ministry ultimately hopes that an IT system could be used to manage and process information on up to 10,000 people during future non-combatant evacuation operations.
The operation to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans saw 15,000 people airlifted out of the country on 100 flights, in what government has described as the UK's biggest evacuation operation since the Second World War.
However, whisteblowers have claimed efforts were chaotic and marked by messy processes and inadequate IT systems that saw an estimated 5,000 urgent messages going unread at the height of the crisis, while senior officials have admitted the need to regularly delete emails to prevent their inbox malfunctioning.
Responding to a parliamentary committee report that called the evacuation "a dark chapter in UK military history", the government recently admitted that 3,075 Afghans eligible to be evacuacted to the UK remain in Afghanistan.
The procurement notice for the early-stage work on the new digital registration and tracking platform indicated that the UK's response to recent crises – perhaps alluding to the Kabul evacuation project – has highlighted the possible benefits of a software system to store and manage data on those eligible to be resettled in this country or another safe place.
The notice added: “Recent deployments have highlighted an opportunity for the introduction of a system that can register and subsequently track eligible persons (EPs), providing instantaneous statistical analysis of those EPs that are in the evacuation chain, and those that have been delivered to the place of safety – the end point of an evacuation chain.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “This capability is in its concept phase and a full solution has not yet been developed. A full capability would be intended to manage information flow during non-combative crisis operations, for example registering and tracking the progression of individuals during an evacuation.”
Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared