Disaster Web Portal Makes Unofficial Debut

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Irvine, Calif., April 11, 2007 -- After more than a year of work, members of UCI's Calit2 ResCUE/ResponSphere research team presented a working product to a public agency that intends to incorporate it into ongoing disaster management efforts.

From left: Ontario Fire Chief Chris Hughes,
Fire Marshall Steven Holtrust and UCI's
Davison discuss the portal.

Research team members demonstrated their Disaster Web Portal software to the fire chief, fire marshal, emergency manager and web managers from the City of Ontario, Calif., in advance of a formal debut. The team has been collaborating with city officials since February ‘06 to design the portal.  

The disaster web portal is a suite of applications used to disseminate information and provide situational awareness to the public and the media during and after a disaster. It will be linked to the city’s home Web page, making available to residents up-to-the-minute announcements, interactive maps of affected areas, donation management information and one-step family reunification messaging.

The system provides cutting-edge technology that is not commercially available, including a feature that allows emergency workers responding to a crisis to instantly post information and messages from the site. The software has been designed for use by multiple cities, but Ontario will be the first to implement it.

Portal designer Lickfett demonstrates the
project's capabilities.

City officials were impressed with the effort and, after a test-run in the near future, hope to formally launch the portal by early summer.

“It’s easy for the public to understand and use, and also easy for the city,” said Jacob Green, Ontario ’s emergency manager, who worked closely with the portal’s developers.

“I think it’s a huge, extremely important step for the community,” said Ontario Fire Chief Chris Hughes. “It offers a phenomenal amount of information to the community and they don’t have to wait a long time to get it. Getting this information out as quickly as possible in a disaster is essential; the public needs to have as much information as we can give them.”

The portal’s lead software engineer Jay Lickfett and ResponSphere technology manager Chris Davison are also pleased with the project’s outcome.

“We’re really happy with the way the portal works,” said Lickfett. “We’re going to tweak a few details on the site to customize it even further for Ontario ’s use, and then it will be ready for an off-line trial.”

Added Davison: “This is an important artifact developed by Project ResCUE that will actually be implemented by a community to aid in disaster communications, so it’s a big step for us.”