DHS seeking alert system

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The Homeland Security Department is putting together a business case for the fiscal 2005 budget that would finance an alert system for the public.

Rosita Parkes, the chief information officer at DHS' Federal Emergency Management Agency, said today that the agency is taking an inventory of what technology it has and what kinds of alert systems it could use to warn the public of an emergency.

Ideas being considered include using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio, currently being developed, and leveraging the text messaging available on some cell phones.

"We are proposing a business case to ensure that we are addressing this as a coordinated effort," Parkes told a gathering at the E-Gov conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by FCW Media Group.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the radio alert network, a relic of the Cold War, was not activated to inform citizens about the terrorist attacks. On the East Coast, telephone systems and computers failed, and cell phones went dead. In some areas, only people with certain types of handheld computers were able to communicate.

Parkes and others at DHS say they now hope to prevent another communications failure by upgrading wireless systems to enable them to continue communicating in a disaster.

The maritime community is already using warning systems for weather alerts. Nathaniel Heiner, the chief knowledge officer at the U.S. Coast Guard, said boaters already have access to many warning systems that are beamed to them by satellite or transmitted by radio.

"All the boating community knows how to reach us," Heiner said.

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