FEMA ponders processes

Federal Emergency Management Agency

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's chief information officer wants to create a workflow intelligence system that could help federal officials respond to a disaster proactively.

Right now, FEMA officials rely heavily on the collective knowledge of people who have been through disasters before and know what to do in such cases, said Barry West, the agency's CIO, describing the concept during a breakfast briefing sponsored by Input, a research analysis firm.

We "have no regimented, if you will, workflow intelligence system that [says] you need to do this, this, this and this," he said. Such a system would prompt users about what to do next and even assist state and local officials.

If government officials knew, for example, the area a hurricane was going to strike and the number of households that would be affected, they could calculate what kind of resources they would need, whether it's ice, food, or laptop computers. Such a system could help officials do work before the disaster hits, he said.

The concept is still a nascent idea that has to be developed by West's office, he said. He also is seeking help from industry.

Although West outlined his duties and that of his staff at FEMA during his presentation, he also showed how technology played a role during Hurricane Charley's rampage through Florida. The Category 4 storm, with top winds at 145 miles per hour, hit Florida's Gulf Coast nearly two weeks ago, leaving at least two-dozen people dead.

He showed a clip of a video conference — a large screen surrounded by seven smaller ones — that federal, state and local officials held. West also said mapping tools, laptops and IT personnel from his office are supporting Florida's recovery efforts.

In related news, Brian Haney, Input's director of client support, said FEMA's IT budget for fiscal 2005 is projected to be $443 million, about $23 million higher than this year and about $93 million more than in fiscal 2003.

Driving the increase are the development of an enterprise architecture; creating access to information via portals, data sharing, and knowledge management; communications; and customer service.

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