FEMA video tech helps quake response

When an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 shook Washington state last Wednesday,videoconferencing technology helped coordinate the Federal Emergency ManagementAgency's response, bridging thousands of miles separating its northwestregional office and Washington, D.C., headquarters.

On the day the earthquake struck, FEMA held a briefing involving its Region10 office in Bothell, Wash., six miles north of Seattle; its headquartersin the nation's capital; a Virginia operations office; and the TransportationDepartment. Two more 30-to-45-minute briefings were held on Thursday andFriday, and a final one on Saturday, said John Hempe, electronic maintenanceforeman at FEMA headquarters.

Videoconferencing helps emergency response officials coordinate more quicklyand efficiently, Hempe said. "They love the ability to interact," he said.About 10 officials from the Region 10 office participated in the conferencesand about 30 from FEMA headquarters, he said.

FEMA's use of videoconferencing to respond to the earthquake was fairlylimited in comparison with other disasters, Hempe said. For instance, whenhurricanes strike, 10 different offices and agencies might participate inbriefings at once, and briefings may be held every day for a week or so."This was wrapped up pretty quickly," he said.

The agency uses videoconferencing in a variety of other ways, includingtraining. Yesterday, it broadcast to each region the swearing-in ceremonyfor new FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh, attended by President Bush.

FEMA uses videoconferencing technology from PictureTel Corp., includingits Prism and Montage conferencing servers. All FEMA sites have PictureTelvideo systems and are linked to Integrated Services Digital Network lines,Hempe said.

The Washington quake resulted in one death and more than 400 injured people,with four people still hospitalized, according to the Washington State EmergencyManagement Division.

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