FEMA responds with technology

FEMA responds with technology


Who's In Charge

Dennis R. DeWalt

Acting Chief Information Officer,

Acting Executive Associate Director
of the Information Technology
Services Directorate

William Prusch

Enterprise System Development

Division Director

Edward Kernan

Management Division Director

Gordon Fullerton

Engineering Division Director

Robert Fetter

Operations and Maintenance

Division Director


Dewberry & Davis LLC$18.3
AT&T Corp.$15.0
Verizon Communications Inc.$13.4
Michael Baker Jr. Inc.$6.8
Artel Inc.$2.3
Sytel Inc.$2.0
Unisys Corp.$1.4
Titan Corp.$1.4
Communications Resource Inc.$1.3
NCS Technologies Inc.$1.2

Sources for Inside FEMA include FEMA and Input of Chantilly, Va.

When an earthquake rumbled through Seattle in February, the Federal Emergency Management Agency rolled into the area with its high-tech equipment to provide support services to the region.

It was just another day for FEMA, said Dennis R. DeWalt, the agency's acting chief information officer. The emergency management agency has been using high-end technology to provide speedy transmission of voice, data and video information to help disaster victims recover, he said.

Most of the digital effort takes place across FEMA's National Emergency Management Information System. NEMIS lets the agency assemble its response team, transmit damage reports and hold videoconferences, all with audio transmissions.

NEMIS launches three major programs that begin the long process of federal relief, said DeWalt, who also serves as FEMA's acting executive associate director of the Information Technology Services Directorate. Grant applications for individuals and families are transmitted through NEMIS, as are requests seeking funds that help state and local governments begin repairs. Without NEMIS, preliminary damage reports would take much longer to process, he said.

Migration complete

NEMIS, built on a client-server architecture, runs on Compaq ProLiant servers under Windows NT. The agency completed its migration to an Oracle8i database just before the Washington quake.

Once on the scene, the disaster response team turns to the system to set up duty rosters, entering each person and his or her role into NEMIS, DeWalt said.

Security is managed by assigning a person to a position in the program. Each position has a predetermined role with associated access to the system and preset perimeters. Passwords control access once roles have been assigned, he said. Most FEMA disaster workers are removed from the system after the specific disaster they responded to ends, DeWalt said.

Also, the role assignment and computer security process is all automated, DeWalt noted.

The agency hopes to pilot a wireless LAN version of the system soon and has been studying the possibilities for some time, DeWalt said.

Switching to a wireless version will shorten the set-up time, which now can be up to two days, he said. For each disaster, a team must set up its LAN, get into the WAN and connect to NEMIS, he said.

The FEMA-run disaster team, above, was
on the scene to discuss disaster response strategy after the February earthquake in Washington, which crushed automobiles
in Seattle under piles of debris, top left,
and cracked the state capitol dome in
Olympia, right. At bottom left, state and local officials join FEMA personnel to map out support efforts.

Major Programs
' Hiring automation. To speed up the hiring process, FEMA is piloting QuickHire from QuickHire of Alexandria, Va. The Web program prescreens candidates and ranks them according to user-specified criteria. The system can input, track, score and store thousands of applications for multiple job openings. More than 20 federal agencies are either using QuickHire or piloting it, company officials said.

' Payroll automation. FEMA is piloting payroll automation software at its offices in Mount Weather, Va. The pilot uses human resources software linked to the financial management system to save time and effort, said Dennis R. DeWalt, acting chief information officer. Under the system, employees would track their own work time. Managers would approve the timecards before submission, he said. The pilot is being tested in FEMA's Human Resources Group, Financial Group and the Information Technology Group.

' Voice and data integration. FEMA is continuing work to integrate its voice and data networks. It plans to integrate legacy voice, video and data networks using MC3810 routers and IGX switches from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif. The routers compress the private branch exchange voice channels from
64 Kbps to 8 Kbps. The agency
is working on architecture problems associated with the upgrade.


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