Web site portal for homeland security opens

A consortium of government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has created an Internet portal to help municipalities with disaster preparedness and response.

The Security Proof of Concept Keystone portal, sponsored by the National Security Agency, was first piloted in November by the Department of Homeland Security’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate. The site, DisasterHelp.Gov, can now support more than 4 million agencies as part of the country’s first responders.

One key piece that will be available online at the end of this month is a Disaster Management Interoperability Services tool kit that will make it possible for police, fire and ambulance responders to directly communicate with each other in disasters through the portal.

Right now, communications between different agencies are often difficult because they use different radio frequencies and incompatible equipment, said Mark Zimmerman, program manager for the portal. Zimmerman said the portal was created after input from first responders and representatives from a range of small to large municipal governments.

Among the most sought-after features were geographic information system capabilities to provide maps and data, and the ability to conduct secure online chats between emergency officials in times of crisis, Zimmerman said. The site had a soft launch last November, with features and improvements continually being added.

Links are provided to Web sites for some 17 nongovernmental assistance agencies, such as the American Red Cross and the World Health Organization, as well as to 27 federal disaster help sites. The portal also allows communities to register and build their own custom Web pages, which can be linked to their own home pages to provide updated disaster information for residents.

The site can also provide the public with information and resources before, during and after an emergency, Zimmerman said.

The portal was built on EMC’s Clariion CX400 storage arrays, MirrorView software for remote mirroring between CX400 arrays set up in different locations and Navisphere Manager software, which is used to manage storage.

The site also uses servers and software from several smaller vendors, including Bodacion Technologies’ Hydra secure Web service appliance; software from Appian Communications Inc. in Acton, Mass., and blade servers and software from Egenera Inc. in Marlboro, Mass.