Edited Version of April 29, 1998 Transcript
EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation

Internet Routed Information System

Tim Murphy
Operations Coordinator for Response and Recovery Section

South Carolina Emergency Preparedness Division

EIIP Tech Arena Moderator: Amy Sebring

The original transcript of April 29, 1998 online Tech Arena discussion is available in EIIP Virtual Forum Archives (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the participants to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring:

On behalf of the EIIP, I am pleased to welcome you to a special event in our Tech Arena. Because of unexpected changes made to our software, we are having an UNMODERATED session today. That means, whatever you type in the message area can be seen by EVERYBODY, so we ask for your cooperation. Please hold all questions and comments until we get to the Q&A portion of the program about half past the hour. We will review the instructions at that time. Now before I introduce our special guests, I would like to review how to use links to display Web pages in another browser window for the benefit of our newcomers. When a full URL is typed in the message area, it becomes a hot link, so you can just click on it, and a webpage will display in another browser window.


And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Tim Murphy, Operations Coordinator for Response and Recovery section of South Carolina Emergency Preparedness Division. Tim has a good deal of information to cover today regarding the Internet Routed Information System (IRIS) that he has been working on, and which I think you are going to find to be very exciting. Welcome Tim and thanks for being here today.


Tim Murphy: Hello everyone, I appreciate this opportunity to talk about our disaster response software project. As an introduction, our agency, South Carolina Emergency Preparedness Division, needed an automated solution for tracking requests for assistance and information regarding disasters. With help from the University of South Carolina, Advanced Solutions Group (ASG), we have a database program that uses Internet technologies (TCP/IP, CGI, HTML, Java, etc.) to share information in near real time on line across an intranet or the Internet. To give you an overview of the data base program, I will describe the software, how it is laid out and show you some slides of the program's HTML pages.

The database program is called Internet Routed Information System (I.R.I.S.). It is a single, shared database accessed via an intranet or the Internet. IRIS resides in a five user license of the Oracle database software on an IBM AIX RS6000 dual (2) processor data/ web server. One of the processors handles all the incoming/ outgoing "web based" traffic while the other processor interacts with the Oracle database. The computer is using the UNIX operating system and the IRIS program uses basic C++, Common Gateway Interface and Java Script code to function efficiently.

We designed the program structure to be a virtual replica of the state response organization while also being simple, open and useful. To log into the program "Users" must be registered and assigned to a virtual "Site" such as a county EOC, state ESF or OPS (state operations desk) and various other response sites.

We can register/ create an unlimited number of Sites, but we try to keep this number reasonable and corresponding to those response organizations most involved in disaster management.

Users names can be either the person's actual name (h-smith) or a more generic title such as ARC_Rep. Users can be limited as to which Sites they are assigned. The combination of User and Site can be easily changed by the system administrator. Users log into sites and then can access IRIS records for creating, viewing or updating information as appropriate. Any user creating or updating records will then have their Site_User name "stamped" on those records for accountability.

For simplicity, the IRIS database has only three (3) types of records. (1) the Incident, (2) a message, and (3) the request/task. These records are organized into relational data tables. The Incident record is the base or parent record while a request or a message is a child record "linked" to some Incident record. Let's look at the some of these records (Amy, First Slide please.)

[Slide 1]

Tim Murphy: This is a screen capture of an Incident record. The area at the top of the record is a series of hypertext links to allow the user to move to other areas of IRIS as needed. This "navigation area" is found at the top of the HTML page for every individual database record.

Looking at the Incident record. We use a "root" field called a "Disaster" name to link all incident records together. We use a common disaster name such as "Hurricane Vicky" to keep all similar incidents grouped for future sorting, reporting etc. Note that an Incident record has a unique Incident AKA name which is not repeated in the database for that disaster. The incident record contains basic information about the incident as would be needed by a county or state operations section.

The Incident record can be updated by the county site such as ChasEOC if the incident location is Charleston County or by any state level site such as OPS. This precludes local county EOC sites from mistakenly updating incident information not involving their county. We hope that counties will report their incidents using IRIS, but if not, those users at the state EOC can enter incidents into IRIS for them based on a radio call, phone call or faxed information. Once an Incident record has been created in IRIS, then a user can create a request for assistance or a message based on the incident. Every request or message must be linked to some incident.

We decided to keep requests separate from messages so we could focus on tracking requests while still having a way for users to input information on how the incident situation was progressing by using a message record. Let's look at a request record that was created for this incident. (Amy, Second Slide please)

[Slide 2]

Tim Murphy: This request record is linked to the Incident and has the DisasterName_Incident AKA in its heading. (Hurricane Vicky__Horry, Aynor tornado 4/8).

The nine types of request records are all similar in layout and each has just six fields for numbers or text information related to quantity needed, what is needed, why, by whom, where to deliver etc.

The record is read only once created, but the bottom of the record has the update/ addendum feature that we use to track who is involved with the request, what is its status and a small note area for coordination details.

We expect the users involved with a request to access IRIS and keep the status updated as appropriate. Then anyone using IRIS can view the request status and feel confident that it is being tracked to completion.

Just as with the update of an Incident, a county level user can only update a request for his county's incidents. This precludes a county level user from mistakenly interacting with a request record for some other county's request. State level users, however, can update any request record in the database as appropriate.

Request records can be viewed in a list/ table format. They can be viewed either by a specific incident or they can be viewed for all of the data base. We will now look at a request list view for all of the database. (Amy, Third Slide please).

[Slide 3]

Tim Murphy: This slide shows the top of an IRIS request list for all of the database which has been filtered for our "Hurricane Vicky". Note the other filter options such as; Location (a pick list of county names), To Group ( a pick list of those sites involved in tasking/ filling requests), Last Status (a pick list to sort the most current status field), Kind(K) (a pick list to sort each of the nine types of requests), also able to sort records by Importance (Urgent or Priority) and by date-time range.

This list/ table view becomes the "in box" for our state ESFs working in the state emergency operations center. The ESFs all have a computer work station on our intranet connected to IRIS and use it to keep the status of a request current as they work the coordination to meet the need stated in the request.

County EOC personnel can also view this list and sort it by Location to see the list of requests being worked on for their county. We see this as a very powerful way for everyone to have the "same sheet of music" regarding what requests have been documented in IRIS and how they are progressing to completion. Note that each request record has a unique request/task ID number which in this list is also a hyper link to that specific request record.

Now, let's look at the third and final IRIS record called the message. A message is a simple record also attached to an incident and meant to be used to share information about the incident situation or other relevant topics. It is not meant, however, to record unmet needs. That is done with a request record.

The message part of IRIS is totally open in that any user can create a message as a child record attached to any incident. They should, however, attach the message to the appropriate incident related to the message's content. (Amy, Fourth Slide please).

[Slide 4]

Tim Murphy: This is a message created as part of an Incident (Hurricane Vicky__Horry, Aynor tornado 4/8). The message record is linked to the Incident and has the DisasterName_Incident AKA in it's heading. The message has also been tagged to attention various Sites, contains a simple subject line and a small text box (1,000 characters).

Once submitted, a message's text can not be altered so there is a small remarks add-on area on the bottom for changes/ corrections. Also, more addresses can be added to the attention routing. Message records can also be viewed in a list/ table format. They can be viewed either by a specific incident or they can be viewed for all of the data base. We will now look at a message list view for all of the database. (Amy, Fifth Slide please).

[Slide 5]

Tim Murphy: This slide shows the top of an IRIS message list for all of the database which has been filtered for our "Hurricane Vicky". Note the other filter options such as; Location (a pick list of county names), From Site ( a pick list of all registered sites). To Group ( a pick list of all registered sites) as well as date-time sorts etc.

Note that each message record has a unique message ID number which in this list is also a hyper link to that specific message record. The message list sorts by date-time sequence with the most current message at the top of the list. The list does not refresh/ update automatically so a person viewing would need to "submit" every few minutes to look at the most recent messages.

IRIS messages are not e-mail and they remain in the database as "passive" records that the user must look for. We have a newer version in development that will have a Java applet to show users when IRIS records have been created or updated. The only list we have not yet looked at is the list of all Incidents in the database. So let's do that now. (Amy, Sixth Slide please).

[Slide 6]

Tim Murphy: This slide shows the top of an IRIS Incidents list for all of the database which has again been filtered for "Hurricane Vicky". This list of Incidents can also be filtered by county location, activity status (a pick list of 4 activity choices), date-time range, as well as type (we have a pick list of types such as; flood, hazmat, transportation, tornado, ice storm etc.).

The table of incidents offers some helpful information for operations officers by viewing multiple incidents on the same screen. If more detailed information is needed, each Incident AKA text is a hyper link that will open that specific incident record.

A mapping component to IRIS is also included with this list view whereby a ".GIF" map of the state or a specific county will show on screen and small icons representing each incident will be placed on the map for reference as well as a hyper link to the specific incident record. To create a map view the user just clicks on one of the mapping radio buttons at the top of the list and then "submits" the list to IRIS again for an update on a map. (Amy, Seventh Slide, please)

[Slide 7]

Tim Murphy: These maps are not true GIS layers/ coverages and do not allow for a "zoom" feature, but the map does have smart geo-code for addressing long./ lat. and placing incident icons. A true GIS mapping feature is possible, but very expensive.


Tim Murphy: In closing, I can report that we have used this software during several exercises and a couple of minor emergencies with great success. IRIS's simplicity is very helpful because, at times, EOC staff and state agency (ESF) representatives have only limited and infrequent involvement in disasters/ emergencies. IRIS seems to have a very brief train-up time. IRIS is also used daily by our state warning point personnel to enter Incident data reported to them by various sources from around the state. We have conducted training on this software for over one hundred state and local emergency management personnel. There are several counties with Internet access who could use IRIS from their county emergency operation centers/offices.

You have been a very patient audience, thank you. Amy, are there any questions??

Amy Sebring: I would like to take a moment here to review how we will handle the Q&A so that we have an orderly session. We ask that you indicate that you have a question by typing just a question mark (?). Then you can prepare your question, but PLEASE HOLD (don't hit end or send) your question until you are recognized. If we run out of time, you will have a chance to ask Tim afterward in the follow up session in the Virtual Forum.

[Audience Questions]

Amy Sebring:
Tim, you mentioned you were doing an exercise today?

Tim Murphy: Yes. We are online with a coastal county doing an EOC exercise re: hurricanes.

Amy Sebring:
About what percent of your counties have Internet access, Tim?

Tim Murphy: We have about 45% with a local access provider now. We are always encouraging more use of the net for all sorts of EM uses.

Amy Sebring:
Well, that number will probably grow don't you think?

Tim Murphy: Yes. There is a push to get everyone online this year.

Cindy Rice: We are currently trying to do what Tim is doing in Kentucky but with Exchange mail forms, and/or MS Access.

Tim Murphy: Cindy, the beauty of the web solution is the wide access possibilities.

Amy Sebring:
Tim, how did South Carolina Advanced Solutions Group (ASG) get involved?

Tim Murphy: We asked ASG to help figure out a simple, but effective solution. They have used same web concept to connect all jails in SC and they are now working to jointly integrate more justice agencies. This is same technology that our IRIS uses.

Cindy Rice:
Are the big horses like Oracle RDBMS best in your opinion for this type of use?

Tim Murphy: We are their test bed and get a lot of help. The developer will only use Oracle because of its "strength". They also require UNIX operating system for same reason.

Isabel McCurdy:
What back up system is used for the Internet application when the power fails?

Tim Murphy: We have the data base in our EOC. But if our back up generator failed we replicate the data on another computer at a university.

Amy Sebring:
Tim, the database server is at the EOC?

Tim Murphy: Yes, the server is here. So for us, it is an intranet.

Jane Young:
Have you used this with Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) exercises? How successful??

Tim Murphy: Yes, we used it in March with a group at our forward EOC.

Avagene Moore:
Tim, you mentioned getting everyone online this year --- does that mean all local government agencies in your state? Is this a global approach for all states?

Tim Murphy: We have discussed spending some state money for this but it may be just those hurricane risk counties now and more later. It becomes hard to justify to some politicians. The web is good, but not fully legitimate in some eyes.

Cindy Rice:
Is the database replicated out to the counties or just the portions to the specific counties, or not at all? And can the counties continue to work with what they have locally if connection is lost? Is there a backup/manual system they can go to in case of connection failure?

Tim Murphy: There is no replication out to counties. This is different than a Lotus Notes type system. Everything resides in our database and only using a browser to view or interact from the outside. Manual system, we can always go back to paper but it is soooo hard to keep up with all that paper.

Avagene Moore:
How many of your counties on the coast are online?

Tim Murphy: All but two and the backup counties are all there now. We could use a remote access server to get at least 12 online in a pinch.

Amy Sebring:
Tim, can you tell us a little more about how you have handled the training for this?

Tim Murphy: Training is very interesting. First, I get them interested in the Internet for all types of uses; then I show them how IRIS can be used. Training can be done at our EOC or online in a telephone call setting. I also have on-line exercises a couple of times a year. Our state agency reps are required to come to SEOC for annual training as well.

Avagene Moore:
How do you explain the reluctance of local governments to get online? Is it money or lack of understanding of how this can be such a useful and timely tool?

Tim Murphy: Both. This is not a very rich state and some tech items are hard to sell. The usefulness will be shown in a disaster...I hope.

Amy Sebring:
Tim, what are your thoughts about sharing this technology with other states?

Tim Murphy: No problem in concept. I have shown it to New York and discussed with North Carolina. The ASG folks hold the copyright. They are interested in clients, but the upfront hardware is expensive. I think we all should share ideas like this.

Amy Sebring:
About how much for upfront hardware, and what type of hardware is needed?

Tim Murphy: They recommend a IBM F50 type server which is about $22K. The Oracle is about another $500. The code work is however ASG works that out with you. The cost is one time and then just get everyone on line at $20 a month.

Cindy Rice: Understood, but there is a capability for working locally with information with a small server in the counties or an area (KY has 14 areas).

Tim Murphy: Not sure. That is interesting idea.

Amy Sebring: I am not clear on the Oracle licensing, Tim. I thought it was megabucks for Web licensing.

Tim Murphy: Not sure how that works. Our license is for 5 users at a time and the web server handles each user in turn so only 5 get at data. Sorry, my technical advisor is not here today.

Amy Sebring:
Have you ever run into a situation where 5 users was insufficient?

Tim Murphy: Not yet. We have had up to 50 users going at IRIS at same time with little or no delays. We are going to give it a real test this May during exercise. Hope to get up to 60 on line at once and see how it does.

Cindy Rice:
Oracle has several components and they can be meshed in a variety of configurations, which components and configurations are you using (Developer, Web components, others?)? And yes, ours was and is megabucks.

Tim Murphy: We only have the basic data base as far as I know. All the developer stuff is with ASG and we are just a client of theirs.

Final Question:
Avagene Moore:
I would be very interested in hearing how IRIS does during your exercise, Tim. Would you be willing to let us know as an addendum to our discussion today -- or a news article for our online newsletter?

Tim Murphy: Sure, be happy to. The real test would be a hurricane. But not asking for that!! If you have a follow up questions later, I can be reached at 803-734-8020 or e-mail at [email protected] and our agency's general public web site is http://www.state.sc.us/epd. An online demo is possible, if desired.

Avagene Moore: Thanks.

Amy Sebring: Before we adjourn the session today, I would very much like to thank Tim for sharing this information with us. This really is a leading edge type of application. I am glad we have some pioneers. I would also like Avagene to tell us a little about tomorrow evening's session.

Avagene Moore: Yes, tomorrow evening, Thursday 4/30, 8 PM Eastern time, Round Table discussion will about the NFPA 1600. Committee Chair Lloyd Bokman and a host of others will be here to discuss this. Please join us then. Will be a very good discussion.

Amy Sebring: This may have a very significant impact for our community. For those of you not familiar with NFPA 1600, this is a Recommended Practice for Disaster Management. And they are in process of revising, with intent to issue as a Standard. Ava, let's also get one quick plug in here for VFRE conference on Sunday.

Avagene Moore: Yes and we are expecting a lot of interaction on this --- pro and con. Yes. Sunday is opening day of the VFRE.

Cindy Rice: VFRE?

Amy Sebring: Virtual Fire and Rescue Expo; <http://www.vfre.com>.

Avagene Moore: Starting at 1 or 1:30. Kaye C. Goss is the keynoter. Bob Fletcher has an hour and a half presentation. The EIIP is on from 4:30 - 6:30 PM. Tour of web site (bus tour) and past presenters to discuss experiences in the Virtual Forum. Please join us.

Amy Sebring: Thank you Ava. Thank you audience, and since our time is up, we will close down the Tech Arena for today, but we will be in the Virtual Forum room for a few minutes longer, and you are welcome to join us there for open discussion. Thank you for your cooperation. Thank you very much, Tim.

Tim Murphy: My pleasure.

After the close of the formal hour of discussion in the Tech Arena, the speaker and audience moved to the Virtual Forum for a few more questions and comments relative to Mr. Murphy's topic. The subject of CSEPP and related technologies also generated an interesting dialogue among other chat participants.

Cindy Rice: Tim, there are a great many ways to enhance what you are doing but if you're paying a vendor it will cost the bucks every time you want a change. Any thought to doing it in-house?

Tim Murphy: Sure...but we are a small...no budget outfit.

Amy Sebring: OR, they might not work your priorities!

Tim Murphy: We are a test bed for ASG so they take payment in kind..

Amy Sebring: Cindy, are you actually using an Oracle web server?

Cindy Rice: You might want to talk to Joe Fletcher from Utah. We're both in the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) program and Joe has had the system online for over 2 years now. Due to some hitches we are behind Joe, we have the hardware and software, just trying to get the staff and training to support it.

Tim Murphy: We understand that oracle and unix can be very costly to support.

Cindy Rice: I've had training for both but there is no staff to do daily things like repairs so we are slow off the mark

Tim Murphy: Enjoyed it and thanks for the invitation to present.

Amy Sebring: Thank you again Tim, great job.