FEMA tech aids response

Videoconferencing helps emergency response officials coordinate more quickly and efficiently.

When an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 shook the state of Washington Feb. 28, video-conferencing technology helped coordinate the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response, bridging thousands of miles separating its northwest regional office and Washington, D.C., headquarters.

On the day the earthquake struck, FEMA held a briefing involving its Region 10 office in Bothell, Wash., six miles north of Seattle; its headquarters in the nation's capital; a Virginia operations office; and the Transportation Department. Two more 30- to 45-minute briefings were held on both March 1 and 2, and a final one March 3, said John Hempe, electronic maintenance foreman at FEMA headquarters.

Videoconferencing helps emergency response officials coordinate more quickly and efficiently, Hempe said. "They love the ability to interact."About 10 officials from the Region 10 office and about 30 from FEMA headquarters participated in the conferences, he said.

FEMA's use of videoconferencing to respond to the earthquake, which killed one person and injured more than 400, was fairly limited compared with there disasters, Hempe said. For instance, when hurricanes strike,10 offices and agencies might participate in briefings at once, and briefings may be held daily for a week or so. "This was wrapped up pretty quickly,"he said.

The agency uses videoconferencing in other ways as well. On March 5,it broadcast to each region the swearing-in ceremony for new FEMA Director Joel Allbaugh, attended by President Bush.

FEMA uses videoconferencing technology from PictureTel Corp., including its prism and Montage conferencing servers. All FEMA sites have Picturetel video systems and are linked to Integrated Services Digital Network lines,Hempe said.

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