Montgomery County, Md., is in a unique position. The county's proximity to Washington, D.C., means it -- along with other nearby counties -- shares responsibility for helping protect the center of American government and responding to emergencies, including terrorist or bio-terrorist events, as well as natural disasters.

Yet the county's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was located in a converted basement and offered little space and limited resources, restricting its ability to respond to emergencies effectively.

Last year, Montgomery County approved plans to build a new public safety communications center designed to house a 911 call center, police dispatch, fire dispatch, a transportation management center, a transit management center and several other entities. Knowing the EOC could benefit from the new facilities and interaction with each of these entities, county officials lobbied to move the EOC into the facility as well.

"If we could integrate the EOC with all the services being placed in the new facility, we could all talk to each other and see each other daily," said Bob Freeman, Montgomery County's EOC operations manager. "A major problem in government is that entities often don't interact like they should. In order to respond effectively to a major emergency, all entities have to work as a team. We saw this as an opportunity to help accomplish that."

New Facilities/New Capabilities

County officials eventually obtained permission to move the EOC into the new building, providing them more space and access to better resources. At the same time, members of the EOC saw the move as an opportunity to improve their technology and processes for responding to different types of emergencies.

As part of that effort, the EOC began working with Tennessee-based RAMSAFE Technologies. RAMSAFE developed a homeland security application featuring technology-based tools that promote collaboration between emergency managers, first responders, security managers and corporate executives. The technology is designed to help communities improve emergency preparedness, first response and operational recovery.

The county set up the EOC in the new facility using RAMSAFE's solution running on a Microsoft platform. The combination of new technologies means the county EOC can now automate procedural checklists, integrate resource management, organize contact information and documents, and use a bio-terrorism/multihazard predictive and decision support modeling tool. The new system also includes GIS, hundreds of live cameras, iPIX photos (three-dimensional, interactive photos that allow the user to control where you go and how close you get) and real-time data from 911 dispatches.

The EOC contains four large flat-screen monitors. Each screen can display a variety of things, from live television feeds and Internet sites to images from one of the 145 county-operated cameras. Thirty-six computers are arranged near the screens, with capacity for more than 100 laptops to hook up to the system if needed. From each terminal, county officials can tap into the county's traffic management system and view real-time images of intersections around the county, as well as a real-time queue of emergency calls coming into the 911 call center.

"The Montgomery County EOC has been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility," said Freeman. "We now have a huge archive of information available and new, technology-based ways to get that information and use it to help disaster specialists make better decisions. While actually handling the emergency is still up to the disaster specialists, we can now help make them more efficient and effective in a response."

The new tools also give the Montgomery County EOC accurate, up-to-date counts of the available resources to respond to an emergency.

"This is important in responding to a situation, but it also allows you to become proactive instead of reactive," said Himadri Banerjee, vice president of research and development for RAMSAFE Technologies. "You can see areas where you are lacking and build them up prior to an emergency occurring."

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer