FEMA automates property inspection scheduling

A telephone registration process and a custom PC application let the Federal Emergency
Management Agency help disaster victims begin rebuilding their homes, businesses and lives
quickly.


The process automates the sign-up for applying for aid. During phone interviews, FEMA
agents gather the data in the PC application, which runs under Microsoft Windows NT 3.51.
By using the teleregistration app, FEMA agents cut paperwork, said Glenn Garcelon, chief
of FEMA’s National Processing Services Center in Denton, Texas.


“When we were in a paper mode, we felt good if we got someone assisted in about 19
days,” Garcelon said. “Now the turnaround time from application to assistance is
about six days.”


Sloppy handwriting, incomplete applications and misplaced forms slowed the aid process,
he said. The software lets the agency schedule property inspections in less than a day,
and in many cases a few hours, Garcelon said.


“We rolled out teleregistration in April 1995, and it really turned the corner for
us,” Garcelon said. “Until that time, we filed everything by paper, and we were
having to do additional data entry after an application was filled out.”


HTE Inc. of Lake Mary, Fla., designed the software for FEMA mainly using PowerBuilder
from Sybase Inc. The company also used Visual C++ from Microsoft Corp., said Rick Walsh, a
software designer and division manager in HTE’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., office.


The application’s data is stored in a Microsoft SQL Server 6.0 database on a
400-MHz dual-processor Compaq ProLiant 1600 server with 1G of RAM and an 18G hard drive.


FEMA has used the software to process about 1.5 million applications since it began the
program two and a half years ago. FEMA received thousands of calls following Hurricane
Georges, which last month struck Puerto Rico, the Florida Keys, Louisiana, Mississippi and
Alabama.


“FEMA has had up to 1,000 concurrent users accessing the system, thereby
supporting a very high call throughput and lessening the number of busy signals that delay
assistance and frustrate callers,” Walsh said.


The system kicks in when a disaster victim contacts a FEMA agent by calling a toll-free
number. The agent, usually at a call center in Texas or Virginia, asks a series of
questions to gather information about damage and losses the victim suffered.


The FEMA agent keys the information into the PC application. The software does an
immediate determination of whether the claim qualifies for FEMA or Small Business
Administration aid.


The app uploads the information via a T1 line to a database at FEMA’s National
Teleregistration Center in Denton. The software generates a mailing package that contains
the formal aid application and other information about where the victim can get local
help.


The National Teleregistration Center forwards the application to the National
Processing Services Center, which can order inspections.    

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