Electronic Data Systems Corp and Compagnie des Machines Bull SA have donated services and equipment for free on a computer system to help reunite child refugees from former Jugoslavia with their parents. The project, called Operation reUNite, will be used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to bring together child refugees displaced by […]
Electronic Data Systems Corp and Compagnie des Machines Bull SA have donated services and equipment for free on a computer system to help reunite child refugees from former Jugoslavia with their parents. The project, called Operation reUNite, will be used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to bring together child refugees displaced by the war in the Balkans. It took five people, five months and roughly $500,000 of work for Electronic Data Systems to develop, and $40,000 of equipment from Bull and its Zenith Data Systems subsidiary, none of which was invoiced. The system was developed after concern for the 40,000 displaced children in Europe, many of whom don’t know where their parents are. UNHCR will work with agencies in 20 countries around Europe which will send a profile and photograph of children on their lists into a UNHCR central registration office in Geneva, Switzerland.
Spot their child
The information will then be sent on to EDS’s development site in France, where the photograph will be scanned into a computer system and the information will be input. After processing, CD-ROM disks containing the information will be pressed and distributed to mobile workers who will take the information into affected areas with a laptop computer and offer parents the chance to spot their child on the system. For security reasons, the child’s whereabouts is not on the system; the name of the agency dealing with the child is used as a key reference. This prevents abduction. The computer system centres around a Bull DPX/20 computer, (an RS/6000 in Bull’s clothing), running an Oracle database supporting an initial six 80486 personal computers. The system will be used for registration. At the time of writing, there were already 500 children on the system after two weeks of registration and EDS hoped to have 1,000 children registered within a few days. The system, which uses registration applications designed and coded by EDS, will hopefully expand the system to use 20 personal computers. The personal computers have 8Mb RAM and 200Mb off-line storage. The CD-ROM disks which hold up to 650Mb of data from the system are pressed by Electronic Data Systems in Detroit but this facility will eventually be moved to France. EDS chose CD-ROM storage partly because of its capacity but also because optical technology is more reliable in a place where magnetic radiation could be a problem. When the CD-ROMs are pressed, they will be taken into the field with laptop machines and portable readers to help parents spot their children. There are initially 20 Zenith laptops but this could expand to 200 by the end of the year. The project, which will be supported by paper-based child profile directories and later on by radio broadcasts of child profiles, uses technology from the US In Touch project, also developed by EDS, which concentrated on helping to reunite veterans from the Vietnam war. Unfortunately, once parents have identified their missing children, they will have little more than the consolation of knowing they are alive and safe: there is at present no money available actually to bring them together.