FEMA helps suburban emergency center open for business

Through a donation of 15 desktop PCs and software from the Homeland Security Department, Laurel, Md., government officials today are launching a new Emergency Operations Center to become a regional coordination hub for four counties surrounding Washington.

Maryanne Anthony, Laurel's director of IT and community services, said the center is the first of its kind in the nation with regional capabilities.

She said it will let the neighboring counties communicate with the federal government and some large corporations through a secure network using the Disaster Management Interoperability Services software.

DHS modified the application from the Marine Corps.' Consequence Management Interoperability Services Suite. DMIS also is used on the Disasterhelp.gov site, which is a part of the Disaster Management e-government project that Homeland Security is managing. (Click for 11/18/2002 GCN coverage)

With the launch of the center, Laurel officials will run a drill simulating a railroad derailment that results in a chemical spill. Anthony said the 20-minute exercise will include CSX Corp. of Jacksonville, Fla., and state and local emergency responders communicating through the DMIS software.

The software provides users with a real-time continuous log of activity during the emergency. Officials can pull up detailed maps and overlay them with specific landmarks, waterways or buildings. Anthony said the software also can show evacuation routes and shelters, and can outline the affected area.

The software also includes instant messaging capabilities and lets users share documents over the network.

Users will have access to the system over a virtual private network, Anthony said.

'Without FEMA's donation, the new emergency operations center wouldn't have happened anytime soon,' Anthony said. 'The software is flexible enough to work in every situation and community.'

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