Report: Emergency management needs synchronicity

Computer systems that tracked 66,200 National Guard and civilian responders deployed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita need to be improved and better integrated, according to a just-released 2005 Hurricane Season Response After-Action Report.

The Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an organization created in 1996 that manages a disaster-relief mutual aid agreement among the states and territories, prepared the 175-page report.

The compact was activated 10 times in 2005, primarily for Katrina and Rita, and distributed $840 million of aid. The organization deployed 46,500 National Guard personnel and nearly 20,000 civilian responders, its largest personnel deployment.

Much of the assistance was distributed successfully. However, the report noted shortcomings in the compact's computer systems, especially in coordinating its central database, broadcast system and electronic aid request forms.

"EMAC needs a fully synchronized automated system," the report stated. Its support system now "has both hard copy and electronic components. They are not well synchronized, resulting in considerable duplication of effort and redundant data entry."

Database security needs to be beefed up as well, the report stated. Some Katrina volunteers accessed the compact's database and made unauthorized changes to data regarding their operations during deployment. The study advised that without specific authority granted by a coordinator, access to the central database should be prohibited.

In addition, responders were not sufficiently familiar with the operating system and its latest capabilities in order to use those features, or they used spreadsheets that were incompatible with the compact's IT systems.

"This leads to inconsistencies in resource information and EMAC database errors," the report said.

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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