Citizen calls for aid will help direct relief efforts

Not all critical communication during an emergency is outbound from government.

Homeland Security Department officials want to develop a systematic approach for state call centers to use when responding to calls for assistance during hurricanes and other emergencies.

DHS has awarded a contract to the Texas A&M Research Foundation to study all of the calls for assistance that were made in Texas after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and then develop a template for responding to such calls during future emergencies.

To begin what DHS officials are calling the Public Needs Project, the foundation will review all the calls made to the 26 Texas 2-1-1 call centers in the four-month period before, during and after the hurricanes and then correlate the calls by time and place to see where and when needs arose and what those needs were.

Foundation researchers will combine that data with demographic information to see whether demands for assistance were greater for certain members of the population.

The Texas system’s performance is regarded as one of the major successes of the hurricane emergencies. After Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, more than 200,000 people traveled to Texas from the affected states, and the number of daily 2-1-1 calls quadrupled.

The information the foundation gleans will provide state agencies around the country with better ways to determine what data must be collected from callers during emergencies and which centers are best equipped to handle certain calls, DHS officials said.

The contract, worth just less than $250,000, is for a base period of one year with two option years.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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