Wednesday, December 9, 2009

DHS Launches Collaborative Emergency Response Tool

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Wednesday officially launched Virtual USA, an information sharing tool that helps local and state responders share the location and status of critical assets and information. The program, which has been in development by DHS's Science and Technology Directorate for more than a year, assists federal, state, and local responders track emergency vehicle and ambulance locations, weather and traffic conditions, and evacuation routes (among other things) when responding to an emergency. Virtual USA works as a technology collaboration tool, allowing real-time information sharing from the public that draws on input from local and state first responders. The program utilizes open source software to allow for information sharing between all levels of response - from federal to tribal.

Virtual USA is modeled after a program, Virtual Alabama, developed in 2007 by the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to implement information sharing at the local level to aid first responders. A meeting was held earlier this year to discuss the Virtual USA spin-off, with representatives from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia in attendance. Those eight states have been operating Virtual USA pilot programs since the meeting. The Virginia program alone has reduced hazardous materials incident response time in that state by at least seventy percent.

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