will access HILS through the Web, and agencies might have a direct dial-in option, he said. An encrypted, password-protected version of the system will be available to first responders on a portable drive, which users can plug into a mobile computer's USB port.

People in the database will be able to view and update their records over the Web, and residents can request periodic reminders to keep their listings current, Fetherolf said.

Local agencies will also use the system to enter data from hard-copy surveys, and to make sure data entered online is valid. Finally HILS staff will access the system for administrative purposes.

To give HILS a geographic interface, Fetherolf is using Microsoft's MapPoint software. "We can generate a clickable link that will pull up a map with the specific addresses being queried, literally pinpointed on the map," he said. In the long term, HILS will probably support interfaces with other commonly used mapping programs as well, so public safety agencies with their own GIS software can use it to display HILS data, he said.

The map interface would allow officers, for example, to draw a line around an area where a blizzard closed down roads, Richardson said. The system would display information on all people in that area. "Then they could call those people and make sure they're OK, or send someone to get them."

Child Needs Oxygen, Dog Doesn't Bite

Selecting one person from the map display, a safety officer could learn that "Annie Smith is 22, and she has a handicapped child in the home who needs oxygen," Tharp said. "And there is a rottweiler that is extremely playful." A service agency employee would contact Ms. Smith and send help if needed.

Service agencies that want to use HILS in other communities will conduct their own surveys, do their own data entry and pay a subscription fee to the OHCAC, Richardson said. "We only ask that other agencies pitch in and help us pay for the bandwidth and that kind of thing," he said. Public safety agencies will use the system free of charge.

John Butterworth, sheriff of Marion County, said he hadn't seen a fully functioning version of HILS, but had seen the raw data and understood the system's potential. "Data is power, and the power to effectuate a rescue scenario more quickly is the goal of every public safety organization," he said.

Along with speed, HILS could help first responders gain efficiency, Butterworth added. "Obviously you're putting your resources into the situation as the incident progresses," he said. By the time emergency workers hear about a person in trouble, they may already have committed all their resources elsewhere. If rescuers know ahead of time which people in which areas might need help, they can do some advance planning and attend to them in a logical order.

If HILS had been up and running last summer, when a giant power failure blacked out much of the Northeast, it might have averted some confusion in the OHCAC's service area. During the blackout, people who relied on electric-powered oxygen systems flooded the local emergency room, Richardson said. Radio stations broadcast a telephone number people could call to find out where else to get help, "but if they didn't have power, they didn't hear it," he said. "This system, if it had been in place at the time, could have pulled up those people who needed oxygen. They could have been contacted so they knew where to go."

The emergency operating center could have targeted individuals who rely on city power for a number of different applications, Butterworth said. "We would have been able to access the data quickly, identify those people and move care to them much faster than we were able to do at the time."

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer