A coalition of city governments is preparing to launch an Internet-based homeland security initiative in Kansas City that is meant to help emergency workers better respond to terrorism or natural disasters.
The computer system, operated by the Mid-American Regional Council (MARC) of governments and created by a Kansas-based software company, is to connect more than 100 government agencies across eight counties and two states in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The system is expected to launch in early 2004 and will allow emergency personnel from different cities in Kansas and Missouri to share information and coordinate their efforts during a disaster.
Officials believe Kansas City's Metropolitan Emergency Information System (MEIS) to be the first of its kind in the United States. If the system works as planned, its designers hope to license the program in other metropolitan areas and plan to set aside a percentage of the revenues to a local victims' relief fund.
"I predict this system will become a model for other regions similar to us," said David Watkins, co-chair of MARC's Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee.
Improving communication and information sharing across jurisdictional and state lines has been a priority for state and local governments since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The federal government has given states nearly $4 billion for homeland security, 80 percent of which has been directed to local governments to better equip emergency "first responders" and to improve communication and information sharing.
"It's the first of its kind to be deployed on a regional basis," MARC executive director David Warm said. Many specialty emergency management programs have been developed since 9/11, but none provide a framework that connects agencies across jurisdictional and state boundaries, he said.
The system will connect government agencies such as fire departments, law enforcement agencies and emergency management offices and will be administered by MARC. Private institutions such as hospitals, ambulance services and relief organizations will also be offered access to the system.
According to MARC officials, the system will be useful whether responding to man-made disasters or natural emergencies like tornadoes and ice storms.
"The system will be critical in the event of destructive acts of terrorism, but equally valuable in other major emergencies, such as severe weather situations," Warm said.
For example, a tornado may damage some cities more than others. Officials in those cities can go to the Internet communication network to search for needed equipment or personnel from neighboring communities.
In the case of a terrorist attack, emergency responders in different areas would all look at the same emergency response plan. The system would also track emergency responders as they go in and out of a scene using a bar code and scanner system that is currently being developed. Elected officials, hospitals and federal agencies could monitor the situation or direct emergency workers.
"This system will fill a void that emergency responders have identified in dealing with crises that have affected multiple jurisdictions, and it will make emergency responders more efficient," Richard "Smokey" Dyer, chief of the Kansas City, Mo. Fire Department, said.
Col. Tim Daniel, homeland security advisor to Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, said that he hopes to expand the network to other regions of the state.
"This technology is urgently needed," Daniel said.
MEIS was designed by Kansas City-based Apex Innovations and funded half by federal homeland security grants and the Kansas City Community Foundation, a non-profit organization, and half from privately raised and local funding.
The system is expected to be up and running by early 2004 at a total cost of nearly $1 million. But once it's operational, the cost of joining the network is expected to be less than $200 per organization, Warm said.
Because it's Internet-based, organizations only need Internet access to participate. During a power outage, some participants may lose their connection to the system, but the network itself is not likely to crash because it has "triple-redundancy" protection, which means it has three sources of back-up power, Apex CEO Wayne Abrams said.