FEMA readies emergency system

Web-based disaster response system will push timely information to first responders

Sharing emergency info

The Emergency Management Information Management System (EMIMS) is supposed to be an all-encompassing system for sharing emergency information, but it won’t be the first system to make that claim. Here’s a list of some other Homeland Security Department systems for sharing disaster information among government entities.

Homeland Security Information Network: A system similar to EMIMS but for counterterrorism, the HSIN gathers information from major cities and all 50 states into a collaborative system for sharing threat information in real time. In May, Government Accountability Office officials testified that few people used HSIN. GAO said it was badly managed and poorly coordinated.

Disaster Management Interoperability System: The DMIS analyzes National Weather Service warnings and forecasts and converts that information into a standard format for state emergency offices.

Disasterhelp.gov: A disaster management information Web portal connected to USA.gov, Disasterhelp is a site for distributing information to Federal Emergency Management Agency employees, first responders and the public. The site uses DMIS software.

Regional Information Sharing System: The RISS is a network of regional information sharing offices that distribute counterterrorism information. The system’s functions are supposed to be integrated into HSIN, but that hasn’t happened yet.

— Wade-Hahn Chan

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it has a solution for improving its coordination of nationwide disaster response efforts: a real-time information-sharing system based on commercial software. FEMA said it intends to make its new Emergency Management Information Management System (EMIMS) a single repository for disaster information. It will give emergency response leaders a wide-angle view of what is happening during a national crisis.

“It’s basically going to be used as a mechanism to share situational and operational knowledge during incidents,” said Steven McDevitt, chief enterprise architect of FEMA’s information technology service division. EMIMS is based on SSI’s Knowledge Center software. McDevitt said technicians will install the system next month and follow up with customization.

“There is a very aggressive schedule,” he said. “The idea is to stand up off-the-shelf requirements and customize them as we train people to use the system.”

FEMA will deploy EMIMS at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) first and then in other regions. The system will be able to process geographic information systems and Global Positioning System data in addition to weather reports and patterns. FEMA field officers can manually enter detailed information via EMIMS’ Web-based interface. EMIMS will evaluate the information for validity and importance and distribute critical data to multiple FEMA offices, including the NRCC, the Regional Response Coordination Center and appropriate joint field offices.

John Richardson, contract specialist at FEMA, said EMIMS will be an automated system that supports emergency managers nationwide. Those that hold command-and-control responsibilities will be able to see a nationwide view of disasters and handle multiple events at once. EMIMS will also automatically log the information and convert it to a standard, readable format.

“If something happens overnight and the NRCC director shows up on the morning, he’s got an event log,” Richardson said.
The databases for the information will be hosted in multiple locations nationwide in Homeland Security Department and FEMA facilities.

Officials at the Government Accountability Office said FEMA must take a hands-on approach to collaborating with states during disasters. “FEMA does not yet have operational plans in place to address disaster scenarios, nor does it have detailed information on states’ capabilities and resources,” said William Jenkins, director of homeland security and justice issues at GAO. He testified before the House Homeland Security Committee July 31.

FEMA awarded a $2.2 million best-value contract for EMIMS Sept. 26 to Chickasaw Nation Industries’ All Points Logistics firm, of Huntsville, Ala. The contract, with four option years, is worth $4.5 million.

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