These agency-level sites are linked together to promote regional and inter-agency collaboration.

Demonstrating Effectiveness

The portal's success in the Oct. 8 debate sparked interest among other Missouri agencies, Daniel said. For instance, he expects the portal to support collaboration among 43 St. Louis-area hospitals that have partnered under a joint medical command.

"That group represents real progress," he said. "I'm looking forward to them using this tool to become even better in their communication and collaboration."

With basic communication and collaboration capabilities now deployed, Daniel expects users to mold the portal to fit their needs.

Fortunately the portal's SharePoint technology offers ample flexibility to meet evolving requirements. New applications can be built quickly, and deploying them is a drag-and-drop operation, according to Wolf. Furthermore, specialized Web sites can be created on the fly to manage events or support additional communities of interest.

Ultimately the portal's usefulness to homeland security stakeholders will determine its success.

"I can't just deem it to be successful. We're going to build it, and hope that users come," Daniel said. "Early indications are that portal use will grow rapidly. I'm seeking a network of networks, and I'm very hopeful this will find a life of its own."

Advanced Protection

Michigan Health Alert Network enables rapid response to health threats.

Last March, a jetliner touched down at Detroit's Metropolitan Wayne County Airport carrying a passenger with a case of infectious measles. Everyone aboard the plane was exposed to the disease and needed an immunization within 48 hours to avoid a potential epidemic.

Working from his home computer on a Saturday night, the public information officer for the Michigan Department of Community Health immediately logged on to the state's Health Alert Network and notified local health departments statewide of the emergency. Within two hours, more than half of the local departments confirmed they had received the information. Within 24 hours, 98 percent of local officials had acknowledged the alert and were tracking down passengers for an inoculation.

"Those response rates with our local health departments are just outstanding," said Bill Colville, Health Alert Network coordinator for the Michigan Department of Community Health. "This network really brings together our public and private health-care communities in the state for emergency response."

Michigan completed the network in June 2003, working with Virtual Alert, a Sacramento, Calif.-based Microsoft partner that specializes in public health and safety solutions. Virtual Alert's Bioterrorism Readiness Suite (BTRS) is a Web-based Health Alert Network that was deployed in about four months and now connects more than 2,000 users at state and local health departments, private hospitals and Emergency Management.

Targeted Alerts

Using role-based directory technology, network users can send alerts to health-care officials throughout the state based on their position or geographic location. For example, an alert can target all epidemiologists in Michigan, or all health-care officials in a particular county.

The network uses multiple communication channels -- e-mail, office phone, home phone, mobile phone or text message -- to ensure alerts reach intended recipients. Users also may share and collaborate on documents such as emergency response plans through the system's document library.

"We didn't only build this network to meet immediate needs; we designed it to be a foundation for the future," said Virtual Alert's Dan Desmond. "This basically becomes the infrastructure for public health -- for communication, collaboration and sharing of information."

The Michigan Health Alert Network -- hosted at Virtual Alert's Sacramento facility, with a backup site in Austin, Texas -- relies on Microsoft Active Directory for role-based access and messaging capabilities, and on Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server for Web-based communication and collaboration. "The combination of those technologies make this a very powerful tool and enables us to bring customers online