New center is IT hub for global disease probe

A new emergency branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has become the global IT hub for investigating a mysterious sickness that has afflicted more than 1,800 people worldwide and 60 in the United States.

The agency's new Marcus Emergency Operations Center, open for two weeks, is the central command and communications nucleus for real-time analysis of data about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a deadly respiratory illness newly reported across the world.

'They're in full operation right now on the investigation,' said Kate Ruddon, a spokeswoman for the CDC Foundation, which coordinated the corporate partnerships that helped build the center over the last year.

Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus offered the center $3.9 million last year for equipment. Fifteen other companies'including Hewlett-Packard Co., Motorola Inc., ClearOne Communications Inc., Dell Computer Corp., Symbol Technologies Inc. and The Sytex Group Inc.'donated $155,100 worth of equipment and offered deep discounts on other technology and services, such as antennas and systems integration.

The emergency operations center houses workstations with large plasma video screens that show remote images and lab specimens, and can track the spread of SARS using digital video cameras, advanced audio-video equipment and global positioning satellite hardware and software.

Videoconferencing systems keep the center connected to officials at the Health and Human Services Department and the World Health Organization, as well as scientists in the field, for routine reports.

Ruddon said in the future the center will be responsible for responding to bioterrorist threats and tracking diseases, such as the West Nile Virus.

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