SBA centralized crisis center to manage Katrina claims

Small Business Administration inspectors armed with tablet PCs are waiting for instructions from a new, centralized disaster management center to assess damage and process thousands of loan applications from small businesses decimated by Hurricane Katrina.

SBA's new Disaster Credit Management System, which went live in November, is overseeing its first major crisis. DCMS is designed to enable the agency to more efficiently handle the volume of claims and requests for assistance expected as a result of the devastation. The new system 'changes the way we operate dramatically,' said DCMS director Michael Sorrento.

SBA inspectors performed data collection and assessments manually before the new system was implemented, according to Sorrento. It would take days and sometimes weeks for the inspectors to receive their assignments and return their data to SBA officials for consideration of loan requests.

SBA grants loans to small businesses affected by disasters. The agency works closely with the Federal Energy Management Agency, and roughly 80 percent of the requests for FEMA assistance get routed to SBA, Sorrento said.

Prior to the consolidation, SBA's crisis management systems were located in Buffalo, N.Y., Fort Worth, Texas, Sacramento, Calif. and Atlanta. Each had its own IT systems.

Now the IT infrastructure is housed in Herndon, Va., significantly expediting SBA's response.

'We implemented a lot of tools to [decrease] our response time,' Sorrento added.

Now inspectors receive assignments instantaneously. Currently, nearly 600 inspectors are awaiting assignments to collect data, where possible, by touring sites in the affected regions and interviewing individuals, Sorrento said. The technology lets the inspectors electronically file loss verification information and other data needed to process loan applications from their tablet PCs, he said.

SBA is using Toshiba Protege M200 Tablets running Windows XP Tablet Edition, with a custom component for performing the loss verification process written in Java, Sorrento said. Each unit is hard-drive encrypted with a secure boot log-on software product.

'This allows us to get the data back in hours instead of days,' Sorrento said.

SBA awarded the DCMS contract to SRA International Inc. of Fairfax, Va., in 2002 and purchased an off-the-shelf package that includes a Daybreak Lending Suite Oracle-based product from SuperSolutions Corp. of Eden Prairie, Minn. The system integrates the application and inspection process under one roof, according to Sorrento.

SRA must also provide ongoing support and maintenance under its contract with SBA, he said.

Hurricane Katrina affected 'scores of thousands' of small businesses along the Gulf Coast, Sorrento said, and SBA anticipates receiving well over 100,000 loan applications. About 300,000 applications have been sent out to businesses, but not all who request applications will file for a loan, he said.

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