The only pipeline from the federal government to feed such regional IT-related projects is the RTI initiative, which specifically targets UASI grant recipients ready and willing to be involved in a pilot project to develop interoperability.

Collaboration Is Key

In a collaborative effort that resulted in an RTI grant, Anaheim and EDS unveiled a virtual operations center for the Southern California city in July. The portal offers information from the city's dispatch system, its GIS maps, GPS tracking and traffic videos, providing access "on the fly" for police, fire, EMS and public utilities in case of an emergency, according to Debra Winter, EDS' business client manager.

The portal gives officials a "fused command and control vision of what's going on in the city," Winter said. "The vision for the city is to get all organizations and departments within the city who really respond to disasters, attacks or emergencies to work from one common base."

Without the portal, city officials would need an actual, physical emergency operations center where officials would meet and work on a disaster, in some cases by accessing data that may be available only on specific computers, Winter said. "We've pulled all of those digital assets into one portal where it's available."

Tom Wood, Anaheim assistant city manager, said it is a simple idea but an elegant solution nevertheless. "It brings together everything you have electronically into a virtual place," he said. "Most people are building expensive emergency operations centers and command centers that require people to come to those specific locations. We've done the same thing virtually, which doesn't lock you into a specific place that could be wiped out."

First responders and law enforcement officers will use the portal every day, so if and when a major incident occurs, there will be no downtime having to relearn the system. "People won't forget how to use the system," said Jerry Hauer, director of the Response to Emergencies & Disaster Institute. "It has to be second nature."

Anaheim Police Chief John Welter was a sergeant for the San Diego Police Department when a gunman opened fire in a crowded McDonald's. Access to the restaurant's floor plan would have helped police determine where the gunman and patrons were located, Welter said, adding that the new portal will deliver that kind of information.

"Anyone who has managed a major incident knows the value of this software," Welter said.

The partnership with EDS and the city's heavy lobbying helped turn heads at the DHS and eventually landed Anaheim the grant, Winter said. "We used our collective resources to get the word out to DHS, other parts of the federal government and the state so they could hear about what Anaheim is doing."

RTI's goal is to encourage models that facilitate development and integration of new technologies with existing ones, according to DHS spokesman Donald Tighe. "I use the word 'integration' because the point of RTI isn't just the introduction of new technology, but specifically the integration of those technologies with existing systems, like first responder, fire and police systems already in place."

All four RTI locations are similar in that they've pushed the envelope in IT, but by design they're different in their applications of IT and their homeland security needs.

"From what we know, there isn't anybody out there doing anything similar to this," Winter said. "There are lots of UASI grants, but most people are using those for building up their infrastructure with equipment and reserving some of the money for overtime if we go to orange."

The DHS intends to develop best practices based on the experiences of RTI participants, Tighe said. "The point of the RTI program is specifically to be collaborative and for us to bring some scientific and engineering

Jim McKay  |  Contributing Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout.