The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has recently deployed a new communications system, based on NASA technology, that is designed to aid emergency management professionals when natural or man-made disasters occur.

During the early hours of Hurricane Isabel, key Maryland Emergency Management officials had access to Earth Alert, a system that enabled MEMA to quickly view personnel deployment and status on a map, track personnel movement, send text alerts as well as send messages to and from devices in the field. They were also able to report damages and coordinate response teams operating in the field. All these capabilities enabled MEMA to more efficiently provide relief to those in need.

MEMA is the state agency within the State of Maryland charged with the responsibility of reducing loss of life and property and protecting Marylandís institutions from natural and man-made disasters. The agency accomplishes this by coordinating the use of state resources during emergencies and disasters.

During a one-year pilot program, MEMA officials are testing the Earth Alert Emergency Management System, which was developed by 3e Technologies International (3eTI), Rockville, Md., and funded by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Technology Commercialization Office. As described by 3eTI, the Earth Alert System is a multi-faceted solution for Emergency Management Agencies/Organizations and First Responder communities.

This new system is another success story in NASA’s Technology Transfer Program, whose major goal is to transfer technology derived from its space activities to the public and private sectors for the benefit of humankind. The development of the Earth Alert System is based on NASA Goddard’s communications and information systems technologies.

“We have worked closely with 3eTi to help develop and implement a system that will enhance capabilities within the emergency management community. This one-year testing phase will allow us to provide feedback to the developers, and truly test its functionality,” stated Clint Pipkin from MEMA’s Readiness Division/Recovery Branch at Camp Fretterd Military Reservation located in Reisterstown, Md. “The system is now being used to provide logistic support at designated relief locations for MEMA Disaster Recovery Center personnel in areas hit hard by Hurricane Isabel.”

Because Earth Alert is a hosted Web-based solution, it can be implemented without buying expensive call center infrastructure, networked computer servers, or special hardware for field deployment. It uses commercially available GPS-enabled wireless phones, off-the-shelf PCs and standard web browsers. During this one-year implementation phase, MEMA will test the system with 10 hand-held units and will provide valuable feedback that will allow 3eTI to customize the software to meet the unique requirements of emergency management personnel in Maryland.

The Disaster Recovery Center personnel at relief centers such as Annapolis, and Baltimore, are using a total of 10 Earth Alert units on a day-to-day basis. MEMA is using the Earth Alert system to locate the nearest Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Watch personnel on a map and to obtain their current status. This helps MEMA speed up response times and manage assets. The MEMA EOC can send standard messages and alert messages to the units in the field, and can receive messages from the units with location data.

Because of this capability MEMA can keep a log of critical messages and display the messages on a map for better a better understanding of the situation. MEMA is exploring many of the capabilities for further use such as Damage Assessment and First Responder reporting. These capabilities would aide relief efforts because they enable faster reporting and the ability to speed up relief to hard hit areas. These capabilities will require a more wide spread deployment and cooperation with local agencies.

MEMA can track personnel status through continuous map positioning, and shadow the progress of critical events through real-time management of personnel. These capabilities enhance personnel management, enable faster incident response time, and can mitigate incidents before they arise. With Earth Alert System capabilities, MEMA is now able to send situation alerts and weather alerts directly to field personnel based on their location or profile allowing the closest and best-equipped individuals to be directly routed to critical situations faster.

A successful beta test of the Earth Alert System during the January 2003 inauguration parade of Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sparked MEMA’s decision to implement the system from June 2003 to May 2004. MEMA provided their parade staff with GPS-enabled Nextel two-way radios that allowed them to keep the parade on schedule and to monitor the crowd for suspicious behavior.

NASA initially conceived, sponsored and co-developed the first prototype of the warning system to broadcast survival information to isolated populations and then extended the original system to include the U.S. weather and communications satellite systems. From its Office of Commercial Programs, NASA provided funds for the Earth Alert System through the Small Business Innovation Research Program.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs provide opportunities for small, high technology companies and research institutions to participate in Government sponsored research and development efforts in key technology areas.  The primary benefit of an SBIR/STTR project for a small business is in obtaining seed money to explore a technical idea without any loss of control or loss of equity, including intellectual property rights.

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