FEMA makes communications a priority

To prepare for the 2007 hurricane season that starts June 1, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is beefing up its emergency communications capabilities and logistics systems, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

FEMA is entering the 2007 hurricane season as an organization undergoing transition that is simultaneously implementing a reorganization required by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 while also addressing deficiencies identified following its response to Hurricane Katrina. Among the capabilities it is improving are emergency communications, logistics, situational awareness, evacuations, search and rescue, and mass care, the GAO said.

For communications, FEMA is strengthening its Mobile Emergency Response Support teams with the latest commercial off-the-shelf systems for voice, video and data, the report said. The goal is to design, staff and maintain rapidly deployable, responsive, interoperable and reliable communications at disaster scenes. The lead units for the activities are FEMA's Response Division and FEMA's chief information officer.

One of the improvements is greater coordination with military and National Guard units. "According to FEMA officials, Emergency managers at the federal, state and local levels of government will benefit from an integrated, interoperable emergency communications architecture that includes the Department of Defense, U.S. Northern Command and National Guard Bureau," the GAO report states.

For improving logistics, FEMA has developed a Pre-Positioned Disaster Supply Program and a Pre-Positioned Equipment Program and has selected eight of the 11 locations for the equipment caches. The supplies will include interoperable communications devices as well as medical and decontamination equipment and supplies.

FEMA also is creating a Total Asset Visibility program to improve its warehousing, inventorying and tracking of disaster supplies. The program, which uses two software applications, currently is in use at the FEMA warehouses in Atlanta, Georgia and in Fort Worth, Texas, and will expand to all FEMA warehouses by year's end.

A second phase of the asset visibility program is currently being designed and is expected to be in place by June 2008, and fully operational by June 2009, the GAO 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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