Report: National Operations Center crucial for federal emergency response

The Homeland Security Department must set up a national operations center to integrate federal agency response and give a unified view of disasters, according to recommendations made by the White House and released in a report today.

The 217-page report, titled "The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned," identifies more than a dozen major problems in federal emergency preparedness and response and makes 125 recommendations to the president. The report comes a week after a House Select Committee issued a highly critical report about federal response to the catastrophe.

One of the recommendations is to create a new national operations center from which federal officials from multiple agencies can provide national coordination during a crisis. It also must have the capability of creating and exporting a unified view of the events.

"The mission of the National Operations Center must be to coordinate and integrate the national response and provide a common operating picture for the entire Federal government," the White House report said. The common view must be "capable of being exported in real time to other Federal operations centers."

Furthermore, the operations center must combine the situational awareness mission of the Homeland Security Operations Center, the operational mission of the National Response Coordination Center, and the strategic role of the Interagency Incident Management Group. It also must be capable of receiving reports from all departmental and agency command centers, as well as the Joint Field Office operating at the disaster site.

The staff of the operating center must include logistical experts who can "track moving resources anywhere across the nation," and operations expert, who know how to deliver needed items and services to affected areas.

The report also recommends building up the department's regional capabilities so that each regional can possess the ability to establish a "self-sufficient initial Joint Field Office on short notice anywhere in its region."

While the preparedness section of the report does not specifically mention new IT initiatives, the goal of creating a new operations center that integrates existing operations centers is likely to utilize additional IT networks and software.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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