Texas jump-starts public and private connectivity

Texas jump-starts public and private connectivity


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Texas Health Department this week issued the first statewide alert over the Texas Health Alert Network, about the spreading West Nile virus. The HAN so far has provided 64 health departments with Internet connectivity, some of them for the first time.

Each location has up to five Dell Dimension desktop or Latitude notebook PCs with 24-hour T1 broadband access, plus emergency dial-up provisions to keep abreast of disease outbreaks. The HAN software, from E-Health Solutions Inc. of Houston, can escalate the alerts from e-mail broadcasts to faxes, automated calling and—in a serious crisis—pop-up PC warnings with audible alarms.

“The goal is 24-hour e-mail for health alerts” to all health departments, said Wayne Farrell, director of the Bell County Public Health District. He said his county is connecting hospitals and schools on a fiber-optic Sonet ring, and a request for proposals will go out soon for satellite downlinks to train workers.

CDC in June gave Texas $52 million to carry out its bioterror preparedness plan. The money is being allocated among local and state agencies. Michael Mastrangelo, co-founder of the HAN project, said Texas schools, medical schools, libraries and other organizations are also receiving a $1.5 billion infusion over 10 years from the state’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board.

Mastrangelo said wide intergovernmental sharing is essential to bioterror preparedness, because “expert recommendations on response and treatment would likely change during a crisis.” Eventually, he said, the alerts could go out to wireless phones and personal digital assistants to ensure continuity of operations in a crisis. “Handhelds will help share information between public and private users,” he said.

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