Specialized Software Aids Post-Katrina Efforts

By Jacqueline Emigh  |  Posted 2005-10-11

Specialized Software Aids Post-Katrina Efforts

Throughout Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the State of Louisiana has used E Team Inc.s emergency management software, together with Business Objects Inc.s reporting tools, for managing a barrage of requests for rescue teams, foods supplies, shelter, transportation and other resources.

In some ways, E Teams system provides similar functionality to the inventory tracking, demand-side planning, and sourcing capabilities of SCM (supply chain management) packages, for example.

But unlike the business-oriented category of SCM products, the E Team system is specifically geared to processes used in crisis management, said Matt Farlow, IT director for Louisianas Office of Emergency Management, during an interview.

Built from software originally developed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)s DARPA program, E Teams software is now widely deployed for emergency management across many other pockets of government, according to Eric Kant, E Teams director of field operations.

For example, Tarrant County, Texas, is now using its own E Team deployment to help get resources to Katrina evacuees from Louisiana. So, too, is New York City—the new home of hundreds of other Katrina victims.

Back in 2001, New York City used the system to help deal with the 9/11 terrorist attack among 1,700 users from 150 local, regional, state and national jurisdictions, along with nonprofits, utilities, and private companies such as Macys West.

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E Teams Windows-based, browser-accessible software has also been used in settings ranging from the City of Los Angeles and the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile to the 2002 Winter Olympics and Super Bowl 2003.

E-Teams system can interface with Business Objects Crystal Reports or Crystal Reports Server to produce statistical reports, said Robb Eklund, Business Objects vice president of industry solutions, in another interview.

Louisiana first started using E Team, together with Crystal Reports, about four years ago, said Bob Jackson, director of E Teams Southeast Region, also during the interview

The BI tools from Business Objects also support a variety of other enterprise software systems, including SCM products.

In Farlows opinion, though, SCM tools are designed much more directly for use in day-to-day business procurement, as opposed to resource management in the face of emergencies.

How is E Teams system different? For one thing, the product takes a "mission-oriented" approach that dovetails well with the processes that emergency responders follow in real life, Farlow said.

E Teams software is structured to support operations, processes and methodologies along organizational rules defined by the ICS (Incident Command System), according to Kant. ICS is an emerging standard for describing how government agencies should organize for and respond to emergencies.

E Teams system also includes ICS forms for disaster incidents or events, which can be distributed electronically or in hard copy.

Participants in the system post information to a realtime repository called the "virtual whiteboard." The whiteboard presents summaries of critical information, both in tables and maps. From the whiteboard, users can drill down for details.

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Agency personnel can use the E Team software to assign tasks, track resources, set objectives, monitor status and identify problems, for instance.

"Our product helps emergency management agencies to carry out command and control," said E Teams Kant.

In E Teams software, as in the physical world, emergency management tasks tend to be described along the lines of "missions," said the State of Louisianas Farlow. "Your mission might be to [bring] X numbers of trucks to 123 Main St., for example," he said.

Before, during and after Katrina, Louisiana has been using the system to filter and task requests across local and federal as well as state agencies.

Once requests from local and state agencies are entered into the system, state personnel determine where to assign tasks. "Tasks are then moved to an agency for scheduling," he said.

Next Page: Software helps sort out tasks and deliveries.

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Farlow himself is assigned some tasks. Beyond his role as an IT director, he handles requests that come in for cell phones and other telecommunications resources.

"We only send requests to the federal level [for tasks] that we cant fulfill at the state level," according to Farlow. Similarly, municipalities typically try to meet resource needs locally before asking the state for assistance.

"If theyve run out of sandbags, or sand, at the local level, theyd then request backup help from the state," he said.

Meanwhile, a capability in E Teams software for "critical resources" can help agencies find potential sources of emergency supplies such as ice, food and water, the IT director said.

On the logistics side, Louisiana has utilized the system to manage requests for trucks, rental cars, and other vehicles needed for delivering these goods to storm victims.

The state uses the softwares color coding feature to distinguish between resources that are already en route to their destinations (yellow), versus resources that havent yet left the door (red), he said.

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"If the request is for something like 10 tons of sandbags, we close out the task as soon as delivery is made. If its for something nonexpendable, we leave [the resource] on the screen until it is released [for use in another task]," Farlow said.

The E Team system is also able to send out emergency alerts to personnel by e-mail and to mobile devices.

Other features include real-time messaging; action templates; duty logs and call logs; GIS mapping, with abilities for map annotation and hand-drawn overlays; a security audit trail, allowing for varying levels of user access; and an XML-based API, for integration with a wide variety of outside applications.

Models produced by simulation tools such as CATS (Consequence Assessment Tool Set) can be requested from and displayed in E Team.

Even before Katrina struck, Louisiana used E Team to help prepare for the disaster, pre-posting anticipated needs and events in staging areas, Farlow said.

The states primary E Team hosting facilities in Louisiana are being supported under an ASP model by mirrored redundant back-up sites in two other states.

Louisiana uses a software configuration that combines E Team and IBM Corp.s Lotus Domino. Recently, however, E Team added support for two other databases: Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle. "Were database-agnostic," according to Kant.

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The states resource management around Katrina has also involved three types of BI reports, said Business Objects Eklund.

"In one category are initial requests for rescue or shelter, for example. Theres [an urgent] need to capture these requests [and] to get them routed right away," according to Eklund.

Another type of request revolves around tracking the status of emergency shelters. "Whats the capacity of the shelter, and who is in there? Do we need to assign any more [personnel] to the shelter? Are there any families that have been separated?" he said.

The third kind of report used in the Katrina crisis deals with benefits directed to evacuees, including housing, food, and money, according to the Business Objects executive.

"Crystal Reports can apply business intelligence even to the chaos that comes out of a disaster like Katrina," Eklund said.

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