The eye of the storm

When Hurricane Iniki tore through Hawaii in 1992, causing $260 million in damage, emergency managers realized they didn't have a good handle on how to respond to that kind of devastating event. What they needed was up-to-date information they could use to coordinate their response.

Congress' answer was the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC). The center was established on the island of Maui in 1996 with the goal of developing tools that could gather information from different sources and deliver it instantly to emergency managers.

More than a narrowly defined research organization, the center acts as a support mechanism for federal and state emergency managers, providing them with such information as daily weather reports and imagery, tsunami flood maps and evacuation routes, storm tracking and likely areas of shelter — all aimed at assisting with the phases of disaster management.

Almost six years later, PDC's impact could soon expand. The center is looking to improve its ability to respond to disasters by using regional Web portals. The idea, said Peter Colvin, who was recently appointed executive director of PDC, is to put networks together based on functional needs as emergencies occur.

Such portals could be set up as virtual information resources during specific crises, in much the same way that emergency managers might improvise a temporary command center at the scene of a disaster.

People familiar with PDC suggest that the center, with its focus on emergency response coordination and information dissemination, could also play a role in homeland security.

Officials within the Bush administration have made it clear that they

intend to rely as much as possible on

existing resources and expertise to fill the gaps in the nation's homeland security capabilities. PDC's disaster response experience and existing network, along with the center's plans to expand, fit well with that philosophy.

"We're trying to identify things that agencies are already doing

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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