New FEMA intranet helps support hurricane victims

The new network helps support processing of overflow of aid requests

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is leveraging a new intranet system it installed last month to help support relief efforts to hurricane victims in the Southeast.

After Hurricane Charley hit Florida in mid-August, FEMA set up a field office in Orlando to help handle an overflow of financial aid requests, said Barry West, FEMA's CIO. There, FEMA was able to give its relief workers access to the agency's Federal Emergency Management Information System to help process financial relief requests -- sometimes from people who walked into the Orlando field office, said West.

In some instances, claims were processed and checks were sent to relief victims by the Treasury Department within two or three days, said West.

Looking ahead, FEMA hopes to expand the network to an extranet to help streamline its interactions with other government agencies, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department, said West.

"The whole wireless issue is key to us here," said West, who became FEMA's CIO in October 2003 after serving in the same role at the National Weather Service for the previous 18 months. But West said FEMA still has to work out wireless security and policy issues with other jurisdictions before it begins widespread implementation of wireless systems.

"We'd love to be able to be on the scene and communicate with the first responder out there, but we're not there yet," said West.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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