DisasterAssistance.gov: A portal in the storm
Portal provides relief point for disaster survivors to access and apply for assistance
Anyone who has been a victim of a disaster would find this website a welcome port in a storm.
DisasterAssistance.gov provides a one-stop shop for disaster victims to apply for federally funded assistance and access critical disaster information from federal, state, tribal and local public safety sources.
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The initial portal was launched in December 2008 by the Homeland Security Department’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, which led a partnership of 17 federal agencies known as the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP).
The portal was put in motion by Executive Order 13411, signed in response to the problems people encountered when they asked for help after Hurricane Katrina. The order required the government to simplify the process of identifying and applying for disaster assistance.
Since the launch, DAIP has enhanced the portal with interfaces to other federal and state disaster programs.
Although it is scheduled for completion by 2014, an abundance of information is already on the site.
From its homepage, survivors can log in to Benefits.gov and receive answers to questions about their predicament, including a list of sources of disaster assistance for which they might be eligible.
Filling in information about flood damage might unearth 13 programs from several agencies. The person can choose to apply for selected programs, seek more information or move to other agency sites if DisasaterAssistance.gov does not contain the information that the applicant needs.
An applicant might discover that the Agriculture Department offers a food assistance program for disaster survivors. In addition, a news feed keeps site visitors up-to-date on the latest information on declared disasters, such as mudslides in the Virgin Islands or severe storms in South Dakota.
Are you ready for a disaster? If not, FEMA’s “Guide to Citizen Preparedness” is a comprehensive guide that you can download from the site. Another link leads emergency managers and first responders to FEMA’s site, where they can obtain information about response and recovery operations.
DisasterAssistance.gov also draws information from a State Department program that provides assistance to U.S. residents affected by disasters abroad.
FEMA’s service-oriented architecture provides connections with other federal agencies in addition to disaster assistance programs at the state and local levels and from nonprofit organizations.
The DAIP team uses Oracle’s Service Oriented Architecture suite. At launch, the team deployed bidirectional SOA interfaces with the Labor Department, Small Business Administration and Social Security Administration. Since the launch, it has worked on connections with Florida’s Food Stamp Program, FEMA’s National Emergency Family Registry and Locator Services, and USDA.
During 2009, the portal received an inaugural National Information Exchange Model award and was a finalist for the American Council for Technology's Intergovernmental Solutions award.
Rutrell Yasin is senior editor for Government Computer News. Follow him on Twitter: @Yasin36.