Disaster portal delayed

Slow response by 15 agencies to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s requests for content for the disasterhelp.gov portal has delayed the rollout of the service for disaster victims and responders.

FEMA officials had projected a launch date of Aug. 20 for the portal but now have pushed the launch to mid-September.

FEMA, which is leading the interagency effort, asked 26 agencies to provide content to the portal; so far only 11 have.

The project is one of 24 e-government initiatives being shepherded by the Office of Management and Budget. Its goal is to provide interactive, consolidated information and services to disaster victims and aid workers.

Ideal situation

“In a perfect world, we would have had buy-in probably six months ago,” FEMA
e-government project manager Dennis Green said. “The project would have been done, structured and resourced, and we would have had six more months to work on it than we have had.”

He added that although the President’s Management Council identified the project as a high priority, inertia at lower levels of government has stalled agency participation.

Convincing agencies to provide content for the portal “has been a struggle, I'll admit that,” FEMA CIO Ron Miller said.

Green said the first release of the site likely would not include all 26 agencies that FEMA has joined in the Federal Response Plan for coordinating disaster activities.

“We are certainly working to encourage additional participation,” Green said. FEMA officials have emphasized to other agencies that the project has the support of OMB and “will ultimately benefit every citizen,” he said.

Green said the lack of participation “is a mystery to me. It is a question of whether I get a response, rather than getting a negative response.”

He added that another factor slowing agencies’ participation in the project has been that it involves business process re-engineering. “It is difficult for people to take that step,” Green said. “Breaking down stovepipes is difficult but essential.”

The first iteration of disasterhelp.gov will provide users with links to other agencies’ Web sites. In response to searches, users “will get back a page of URLs that are links to information that would be relevant to them,” Green said.

In a later stage of the project, FEMA intends to incorporate a feature known as Consequence Management Interoperability Services.

The CMI Services tool, which FEMA is developing in collaboration with the Marine Corps, will help first responders to emergencies analyze specific types of incidents.

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