A one-stop safety resource
Washington, D.C., has created an online portal to collect and organize data on public emergencies. The portal, called the Emergency Information Center (EIC), is designed to provide residents and visitors with information about threats to public safety, health and services in the city.
Until the portal’s debut in September 2003, residents had to search through multiple Web sites to find emergency information. During the city’s recovery from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officials decided to make emergency information more accessible on the city’s Web site. “The need was there, and people know that having a single portal rather than hunting down lots of Web sites certainly is the better thing to do,” says Vicki DeFries, GIS director for the city’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). “There were too many disparate sites that had redundant information, and a person wouldn’t necessarily know which site to go to.”
OCTO’s e-government group worked with the Silver Spring, Md., office of Plangraphics; the Alexandria, Va., office of Baker Engineering; Lake Ridge, Va.-based Filnet; and locally based New Light Technologies to build a portal that would consolidate emergency information from several departments’ Web pages and direct residents to emergency information on federal, state and national organizations’ sites. The team built a portal that includes links to news; school, government and road closures; the Department of Homeland Security; the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Additionally, the portal development group created a GIS application using software by Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI that residents can use to find public safety, health care and transportation resources in their neighborhoods. Residents can browse GIS maps by neighborhoods, by landmarks, or they can search by specific addresses. The resulting maps identify evacuation routes, fire and police stations, hospitals, schools, and public transit lines and stations.
The city’s home page, www.dc.gov, features a link to the EIC. If the city has an emergency that affects all residents, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, it can replace its home page with the EIC to make emergency response information even more accessible.
The city spent $700,000 and 10 months to develop the portal, which first was pressed into action when Hurricane Isabel struck the city last fall. With the hurricane threatening, city officials knew residents were anxious for disaster preparedness information. “Right before the hurricane, there were a lot of closures, with the Metro system, offices and governments,” DeFries says. “[The EIC] had that information and who had to report to work or not.”
As the hurricane blew through town, cutting out electricity to many homes, the city continued updating the EIC with notices of power outages and recommendations for residents until power could be restored. The site also pointed residents to shelters and resources for cleaning up damaged property.
Although city officials did not publicly announce the portal’s launch or the information on it, they found that 70 percent of all traffic on the city Web site was for hurricane-related information on the day before the storm arrived. The site also received 10,000 more hits than normal that day.
Since the hurricane, officials have been encouraging residents to prepare by visiting the site before severe weather or emergencies hit. “It has all the information to familiarize yourself with what to do in an emergency,” DeFries says. “We are saying, ‘Familiarize yourself with your neighborhood and know where to go and what the evacuation route is.’ We’d like it if people did that regularly.”