FEMA plans to use Web services for disaster claims

The storm-wracked Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to accelerate payments to disaster victims by switching its main system for tracking and calculating claims from a client-server application to a Web services system, agency CIO Barry West said today.

'We are working with [Congress] to get more funding for NEMIS and telecommunications capability,' West told a breakfast meeting sponsored by Input of Reston, Va. Disaster victims use the National Emergency Management System to apply for benefits online, and FEMA employees use it to take applications by phone.

NEMIS includes links to the systems of other agencies that FEMA works with, including the Small Business Administration, and to other Homeland Security Department apps inside and outside the emergency management agency, West said.

West noted that NEMIS now relies on an Oracle Corp. client-server system. 'We have kept the base foundation and added new features,' he said. 'We are at the point now where we have to change the base.'

FEMA executives are framing a NEMIS technical makeover plan and acquisition strategy to shift the system to Web services, 'and bring it into the 21st century,' West said.

West said that under DHS' current reorganization plan, FEMA will handle response and recovery projects while many other aspects of emergency preparedness will shift to other parts of the department.

This year's hurricane season called forth massive efforts from FEMA, West said. During the deadly series of storms, FEMA added 12,000 notebook computers, printers and their connections to its system. The agency uses security software from iPass Inc. of Redwood Shores, Calif., to shield its notebooks and forbids the connection of personally owned computers to its network as two effective methods of maintaining network integrity, West said.

As part of its systems surge activity in the hurricane season, FEMA added tens of thousands of call center seats to its network, partly to take applications from the public for benefits. That process that called for the installation of 110 T1 broadband connections in four days this summer, West said.

FEMA is in the early stages of adopting 'total asset visibility,' based on radio frequency identification devices, to track the location of the materials it uses to provide assistance to people affected by disasters, West said. 'TAV is in its infancy,' he said. 'We have needed it for the past few years.'

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