Collaborative tool aids terror exercise

The Homeland Security Department is using collaborative Web-based software designed for crisis management to help track and manage events during the fictitious terrorist attacks in Chicago and Seattle this week.

The exercise, known as TopOff2 for the top officials who are participating, is the latest government effort to rely on the software, made by E Team Inc.

New York officials used the software to help manage the city's response following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Earlier this year, NASA used it to help track down more than 10,000 pieces of debris from the space shuttle Columbia disaster, according to John Stiner, vice president of E Team's federal sector. And the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been an E Team customer since last year, has used the software to track the spread of the West Nile virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

This week, HHS brought the technology into play to track the response to a series of fictitious events being staged by DHS, which include a biological attack on Chicago and a dirty bomb explosion in Seattle.

In addition, "they are using it this week to track pharmaceuticals from the national stockpile to determine how much we have, how do we ship them and tracking shipments of other supplies to a site," Stiner said.

Details about HHS' role in the exercise will be disclosed May 14 during a briefing at the HHS command center.

To carry out crisis management, the Web-based technology allows everyone involved to share critical information in real time, replacing paper-based solutions and one-on-one communications.

"Anyone anywhere, with a user name and password, can enter the system," Stiner said. "Anyone who has access can see the information about the incident ... even a police chief in his den watching a Sunday afternoon football game."

Once the incident is logged into the system, it is placed on a map, along with an incident report.

The information is retrievable from a wireless laptop or landline computer. People carrying a handheld computer will get an alert telling them to call up the details on a PC.

Originally developed by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency for the military, the software is now being used to manage incidents such as natural and manmade disasters, according to Stiner.

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