were improved and additional, - and separate - EOCs were set up for the police and fire departments. At the heart of the changes, however, was the installation of an internal PC-network based messaging system using Lotus Notes. "There are some systems out there that are very sophisticated and expensive," Olson said. "We [suggested] what is practical, what is affordable, and what would do what they need for the near term. This was relatively low budget, but still substantial." According to Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant Rob Gandy, prior to the introduction of the Notes system, department representatives would enter the EOC room, turn on the lights and fill out paper forms describing the incident. Requests for assistance were written, then routed to the representative of the appropriate agency. "We were typing the messages into a word processor, but that was the extent of the automation," Gandy said. "They weren't sorted by department, only by date and time." In order to find a particular piece of information, someone had to go through all the forms. To reconstruct what actions had been taken after the fact, the paper needed to be sorted, then summarized. After the Northridge earthquake, private donations to Los Angeles Mayor Riordan's Earthquake Relief Fund enabled the city to accelerate work on VSP's upgrade recommendations. The private donations made capital investments possible and the EOC went from a handful of old computers to about 80. BUILDING THE MESSAGING SYSTEM Gandy has worked with Michael Posin of MultiMation Inc., a private company that specializes in Lotus Notes applications to develop the applications needed by the EOC. Gandy knew what applications were needed; MutliMation's job was to work out how to get Notes to do it. What resulted was a complete messaging system that links representatives of all the agencies, departments and non-government support organizations that participate in disaster relief and recovery. "Each person representing [a department or function] has their own set up and their own kind of reports for the kind of people and actions they have in their department," said Posin. "There are checklists of what they are supposed to do. Users key in what's called an EOC message. Everything is keyword driven; they key in one letter and the whole field is filled in. A number is assigned to the message and a priority, and we have a table of incident locations which is built dynamically. In a matter of seconds you can generate a message." As soon as the message is complete, the user clicks on the send button and the message is routed. Messages can be addressed to specific departments, or to groups of affected departments."All of a sudden, everyone knows what is going on," said Posin

Because Notes supports a variety of data formats, Gandy and Posin have incorporated mapping technology. When the location of an incident is entered into an EOC message, a background process adds the information to a map that can be attached to a message. The maps help to quickly update EOC members as to the extent of the disaster and who is already on site. Right now, the network is largely confined to the EOC itself, but an experimental remote site has been set up and Gandy is planning to have connected terminals in police and fire stations, American Red Cross headquarters, the Mayor's office and other key locations. "We're even thinking it could be done with a laptop computer and a cellular phone and portable printer," Gandy said. "Field people could then put data into the system." DESIGNING THE SYSTEM Another advantage of Notes is the ability of different departments to design discipline-specific forms. For example, the Building Department will be able to put their request forms into Notes, which will then send them to the field office responsible for filling the request. Because training is a determining factor in overall EOC efficiency, Gandy has

David Aden  | 
David Aden DAden@webworldtech.com is a writer from Washington, D.C.