Collaboration tool makes statewide meeting possible in tough times


Using SmileTiger software on a PC allows emergency managers to attend meetings and receive training without travel.

The challenge: how to assemble emergency managers from 100 counties across North Carolina for an important meeting at a time when budgets are so tight that  traveling is not an option.

The solution: gather the managers for a virtual meeting made possible by the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and a collaboration tool called SmileTiger, a product of SmileTiger Software Corporation.

RENCI staff began equipping county emergency management offices with the SmileTiger videoconferencing and collaboration tool in 2007 and provided training on using it to emergency managers across the state in 2007 and 2008. On August 12, with the state immersed in a budget crisis and travel by government employees severely restricted, Doug Hoell, director of emergency management for North Carolina, held the North Carolina Emergency Management Forum as a virtual conference using SmileTiger.

Emergency managers in 80 of 100 counties used the SmileTiger collaboration tool to attend the forum, where state and county emergency officials discussed hurricane readiness and operations and dealing with a possible outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus. RENCI’s Michael Stealey, a research software developer, provided technical support at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh while RENCI Meteorologist Jessica Proud offered technical help to remote participants via telephone from RENCI’s Chapel Hill office.

“The state is facing some challenging times and emergency managers simply can’t afford to travel to the forums in person,” said Rocky Hyder, president of the North Carolina Emergency Managers Association. “Fortunately, using the SmileTiger software and with technical support from RENCI, our members are able to share ideas and discuss important topics without traveling. It is a win for everyone—county and state governments benefit from savings on travel expenses and more emergency managers are able to attend because they don’t have to set aside a full day or more for the meeting and travel time.”

Proud estimated that the virtual conference saved the state thousands of dollars, about 17,500 travel miles and as many as 240 work hours that would have been spent traveling to and from Raleigh.

The SmileTiger software is hosted by RENCI. Using the software requires nothing more than an Internet connection, a PC and standard multimedia peripherals.

The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), a multi-institutional organization, brings together multidisciplinary experts and advanced technological capabilities to address pressing research issues and to find solutions to complex problems that affect the quality of life in North Carolina, our nation and the world. Founded in 2004 as a major collaboration of Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the state of North Carolina, RENCI is a statewide virtual organization.