States counter biochemical threat

Invizeon, AT&T join forces <@SM>on health alert network

AT&T Mobile Network would enable local health professionals and first responders to communicate via an integrated and interoperable network, said Alfred Gollwitzer of AT&T Government Solutions.

Laurie DeWitt

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., read an Invizeon Corp. white paper describing its model for a Web-based program that would help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention share critical information with state and local health departments and private health care providers.

The company's proposal went beyond the federal government's initial vision of an alert system between CDC and state and local public health departments to include the medical community. Baucus forwarded the paper to the CDC in Atlanta, requesting that officials contact the Missoula, Mont.-based company to determine whether its concept would speed up the rollout of the network to state and local governments.

"We weren't planning on getting a call back [from the CDC] for about two or three months, but we got one in two or three days," said David Todd, chief executive officer of Invizeon Corp.

Invizeon subsequently demonstrated its concept to CDC officials, first online and later in Atlanta, Todd said. Building on these briefings, Invizeon and AT&T Government Solutions Inc. of Vienna, Va., two months ago announced they will jointly market the Community Health Alert and Information Network, or CHAIN.

The network is intended to provide a way for the health care community to react swiftly and effectively to infectious diseases as well as chemical or biological attacks.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, it became increasingly apparent to government and industry that it needs to have a network in place that could send and receive health alert information. Analysts and industry officials said the CDC's concept for a one-way network capable of broadcasting alerts to state and local health departments wasn't enough to protect the nation against a chemical, biological or radiological attacks.

CHAIN would enable health officials to track and respond to possible infectious disease outbreaks, as well as potential chemical, biological and radiological attacks. It also would address one of the key criticisms of the CDC's health alert network concept, which left out emergency rooms and hospitals. These facilities must be included for an alert network to be effective, according to health care experts.

Several large states are investing substantial federal and state funds in health alert networks and electronic disease surveillance systems. For example, Texas has allocated $58 million for its statewide health alert network, while Pennsylvania has invested $12 million for its part of a national electronic disease surveillance system.

Congress has provided considerable funding to help state and local governments create the networks. Lawmakers approved about $900 million for emergency bioterrorism response in a fiscal 2002 supplemental funding bill to be provided to these governments through cooperative agreements made with the CDC. They also approved $240 million to support bioterrorism preparedness through the Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration.

The CDC and the health resources administration will distribute the same amount of funding to state and local government in fiscal 2003, John Loonsk, CDC's associate director of informatics, told Washington Technology.

State and local officials will use the money to conduct needs assessments, build pharmaceutical stockpiles and improve information networks.

But results thus far have been mixed. Many state and local governments are working to develop solutions and bring in contractors to build health alert systems, but they want more help from the federal government in terms of funding and leadership, said Costis Toregas, president of Public Technologies Inc. of Washington, a nonprofit technology research and development organization.

"On the one hand, they are moving forward, but on the other hand, they are pushing to have the federal government assume that responsibility," he said.

For example, San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County in Texas have developed a comprehensive anti-terrorism plan. The cost to implement it is $66.2 million, of which $49 million would support disaster readiness for metro area hospitals, said Terry Brechtel, San Antonio's city manager.

CHAIN is an outgrowth of Invizeon's Physician Desktop product, a secure portal that medical professionals can customize to receive medical information. The network comprises a two-way communications and alert and reporting system that enables health officials and first responders to send and receive alerts and exchange information about health threats, including chemical, biological and radiological incidents.

So far, Invizeon has deployed the system in Missoula and is testing it in Portland, Ore., Todd said.

As part of the agreement, AT&T Government Solutions will provide systems integration, knowledge management, data mining services, application hosting, network distribution and system security for an integrated solution.

In addition, the AT&T Mobile Network would enable local health professionals and first responders to communicate via an integrated and interoperable network using various devices, including cell phones, pagers, faxes, e-mails and personal digital assistants, said Alfred Gollwitzer, AT&T Government Solutions' division general manager.

The two companies hope to leverage the relationships that Invizeon has with medical societies and public health departments around the nation into contracts in the second quarter, Gollwitzer said.

"We are well-positioned for the opportunity, because we are bringing a solution to market that is a managed service," he said. "To participate, entities don't have to buy a large technology infrastructure." *

Staff Writer William Welsh can be reached at wwelsh@postnewsweektechcom.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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