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National Hurricane Center, FEMA link up for better service

By Karen L. Shaw
Associated Press Writer
Saturday, August 01, 1998; 1:16 AM EDT

Web Link
The Federal Emergency Management Agency can be found at http://www.fema.gov.

Hurricane information is available at its Hurricane Liaison Team sub-site: http://www.fema.gov/hlt.

MIAMI (AP) – Up-to-date hurricane information is a mere mouse click away for computer users logged onto the Internet.

The National Hurricane Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are using the Web and other technology to more quickly provide hurricane information to the public – and each other.

Directors and workers of the two groups met via video conference Friday to test new systems and unveil the updated Internet access, which it is hoped will enable federal and state agencies to respond more rapidly to emergencies through better communication.

The beauty of the system is that the public can get the same information.

"The whole thing is an informed public. They're getting a direct report," said Bob Shapiro of FEMA's hurricane liason team. "This is kind of personal. I think it's great."

During hurricane watches and warnings, a 60 to 90-second video clip of a hurricane center official explaining storm conditions will appear on the site.

FEMA's director, James L. Witt, saw a demonstration of the clip and other Web features while participating from Washington in Friday's glitchy video conference. The conferencing system was being used for the first time between two regional FEMA offices and the hurricane center.

Such communication now is standard with the agency's Washington headquarters, said Rex Jenkins, a FEMA computer specialist. Other regions continued to participate with conference telephone calls.

An improved system likely be implemented next week, Jenkins said.

At least two states, Florida and North Carolina, also have the ability to link with FEMA and the hurricane center using video.

But the Internet component is exceedingly important, he said, because video-conferencing equipment is expensive.

"That's a $40,000 piece of equipment," he said of the video camera.

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