Rising waters overflow stream and river banks, masses of mud slide over freeways, and snow piles so high, it causes power outages and forces road closures. Last winter, dozens of news reports told of families stranded or left homeless, property wrecked and muddied by flood waters, houses crunched by fallen trees, and pets and livestock abandoned by owners forced to evacuate.

With all of the subsequent cries for help from victims of floods, blizzards, hurricanes, fires and earthquakes, emergency response agencies had to be on alert and well-prepared. Many agencies rose out of the chaos and helped increase public confidence. One such agency was the California, Office of Emergency Services (OES) which successfully responded to the Sacramento Valley floods of '97. One of the heroes that shined during this tense situation wasn't a person, but a system -- the Response Information Management System (RIMS), which consists of 10 to 15 servers, 500 to 800 PCs and multiple, redundant communication networks.

"The most important function of an emergency response organization is being able to coordinate, allocate and move resources to get help to those who need it as fast as possible," said John Bowles, chief of the information branch of OES. "Technology helped us to do that."

RIMS is an example of how technology, correctly applied, helps government agencies effectively respond and manage emergency situations. Agencies who haven't put an effective system in place, or who are looking to upgrade or expand an existing one, will be overwhelmed at the many products available. All one has to do is perform a Net search and plug in the words "computer-aided dispatch" and "emergency response" to uncover literally hundreds of companies and products. So here is a rundown of some of the latest products and techniques helping to save lives.

Take Note

Lotus Notes -- a component of the OES RIMS system -- is a pro at helping agencies manage and coordinate workflow during emergencies. The program's interface makes information easy to find and accessible on the fly by allowing users to point and click to retrieve data. It integrates information from a number of sources, allowing agencies with different applications to share information within the Notes system. It also combines information from desktop applications, relational databases, legacy systems and the Internet.

In an emergency situation, users who deal with hundreds of resource requests simultaneously are able to use these tools to respond, manage and coordinate requests faster and more effectively.

The program also makes it easy to automate business processes, because it's a distributed knowledge system. It features tools to build workflow applications that route information and store content and logic of the work. During an emergency, proper workflow management allows users to send resource requests automatically through a standard process and reduce processing time.

The database gives users the ability to assemble, manage and share compound documents. Information generated from the Internet, relational databases and legacy systems can be integrated into a Notes document. Users can also embed objects, sound, video and data in a document. Teams can then quickly communicate and share knowledge. This also provides accuracy, as a team can determine what occurred during an emergency effort and a chronology of events -- a clear historical record of when actions were taken.

Lotus Notes also offers dozens of other features that help teams create applications to suit a particular disaster, design applicable time reporting, fiscal tracking, inventory management programs and more.

For further details, contact Paul Christman, state and local sales manager for Lotus, at 800/346-1347.

Hit The Spot

For up-to-the-minute overhead images for use during fires and floods, Spot Image offers an array of system services to provide assistance. Spot satellite programming services feature mapping production and updating, cropping patterns, digital elevation models, contour lines, slope and insolation maps and