Edited Version July 29, 1998 Transcript
EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation

Emergency Response Link

John O'Connor
Engineer with the National Communication System (NCS)

Rodney Volz
Senior Consultant with SETA Corporation

EIIP Tech Arena Moderators:
Avagene Moore and Chip Hines

The original transcript of July 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.


Avagene Moore: On behalf of the EIIP, I am pleased to welcome you to a special event in our Tech Arena. Our topic today is ERLink. 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 any 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. For example:


Avagene Moore: And now, it is my pleasure to introduce John O'Connor, Engineer with the National Communication System (NCS) and Rodney Volz, Senior Consultant with SETA Corporation. Welcome gentlemen and thank you for taking time to be with us today.

John O'Connor: Your welcome, our pleasure.

Rod Volz: Thank you Avagene -- John and I look forward to sharing information about ERLink with all of you.


John O'Connor: On behalf of the ERLink Program Office, thank you, for the opportunity to brief today. Rod and I will both be briefing and will be available for questions after we get through the slides. Next slide, please.

[Slide 1]

John O'Connor: The Emergency Response Link (ERLink) is provided by the Office of the Manager, National Communications System (OMNCS) for exclusive use by the Emergency Response community.

It supports the Federal Response Plan (FRP), as well as State and local agencies responding to natural disasters and other domestic emergencies. A demonstration site is available at http://www.erlink.com. Next slide, please.

[Slide 2]

John O'Connor: Rod, please take us through some of the history.

Rod Volz: Gladly, John - thank you. In the way of background information, following the difficulties of communicating during the 1994 Northridge, California earthquake, the OMNCS, in conjunction with FEMA, undertook an effort to improve the information flow among the 28 agencies and organizations comprising the Federal Response Plan (FRP) community.

Successfully reacting to and mitigating a situation depends on receiving accurate and timely information. To facilitate the flow of information, the OMNCS designed and developed the ERLink to be the focal point of information sharing within the emergency response community. Next slide, please. Over to you, John.

[Slide 3]

John O'Connor: ERLink is a controlled access Web site providing the response community with a means of sharing information regarding response activities. ERLink was designed with the very basic principle of making information sharing easy.

The Internet was chosen as the backbone for its wide-reach and easy extension into emergency operation shops and into remote affected areas. Development focused upon capitalizing on the point-and-click nature of the Internet for information retrieval.

Similarly, ERLink's point-and-click upload function allows emergency response personnel to upload and share information with the entire response community. Avagene, sld004, please.

[Slide 4]

John O'Connor: Thanks. Rod, please run through some of the benefits.

Rod Volz: I'll give you a moment to review the benefits slide and would then like to add some detail about security.

Now that you've had a couple moments to digest this information (benefits), ERLink hosts operational information such as situation reports. While not classified, operational information is often sensitive and requires security precautions due to privacy issues such as casualties, contract funding, and unsubstantiated reports requiring confirmation.

To achieve a balance between sharing and securing information, ERLink utilizes authentication, userid and passwords, and encryption, via Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology built in to most web browsers, to provide the response community with a virtual private network to conduct operations. Turning back to you, John. Next slide, please.

[Slide 5]

John O'Connor: Please take a quick review the "Why Use ERLink?" Slide 5 and I would like to say a little more about two items.

Agreements with FEMA and the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center (NHC) are improving the quality and value of information uploaded to ERLink.

The FEMA Daily Report is published daily (Mon - Fri) to ERLink. It is a summary of current activities and an outlook at potential problems. A screen capture of a typical report can be found at http://www.erlink.com/fdr.gif.

Additionally, NHC data (such as weather conditions, storm intensity, and storm tracks) are now mirrored on ERLink. This provides the response community an alternative information source for hurricane data rather than having the community compete for resources from the public hurricane Web site during an actual event.

Currently we are tracking Alex in the Atlantic and Darby in the Pacific.

A screen capture of the NHC mirror page on ERLink can be seen at http://www.erlink.com/nhc.gif. Rod, next slide, please.

[Slide 6]

Rod Volz: How to become an ERLink user? Our user population comes primarily from these areas: Federal, State, and local Governments, Police and fire Protection, Private/charitable organizations (i.e., Red Cross).

The above groups may also sponsor other users such as essential utility services. Again, our key user population is the Federal, State, and local Governments. To apply for an account, register online at <http://www.erlink.com> John will speak to our future plans.

John O'Connor: Future plans include: continue to expand the user population; integrate the primary and back-up ERLink webservers into a single network environment for improved redundancy; in addition to event specific data, add more regular features such as weather and operational reports.


Finally, the ERLink program office will continue to work with the response community to improve functionality and operational utility. We solicit your feedback. More information about ERLink and an account application form can be found at <http://www.erlink.com>

Additional information about the National Communications System is available at http://www.ncs.gov. Now we'll turn it back to the moderator for questions and answers.

Avagene Moore: Thanks for the information on ERLink, John and Rod.

Rod Volz: You are welcome.

Avagene Moore: We 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. Yes, Randy.

Audience Questions


Randall Duncan: I'd like some clarification -- Rod and John mention law enforcement and fire. Are stand alone emergency management agencies able to register, too?


John O'Connor: Yes, we are open to the response community. Randy, could you provide a description of a stand-alone emergency management agency?

Randall Duncan: Certainly. Some local emergency management agencies report directly to local chief elected official, and are not part of law enforcement or fire. My agency is an example of that.

John O'Connor: We can support to that level. Simply make the application request. We have tried to follow a chain of command with the state agencies sponsoring county level and so forth down the structure. But if that is cumbersome just come directly to us.

Randall Duncan: Wonderful! Thank you for your support and making this available. I'm really excited about participating. I firmly believe that the sharing of information is a primary emergency management function.


Isabel McCurdy: Does ERLink have International applications?

Rod Volz: Isabel - that is a great question! We have given a lot of thought to this application. Currently, however, our plans are focusing on the immediate needs of the domestic emergency management community. Once we feel like we have accomplished our goals in this arena, then we'll set our sights on the International community. We believe there is a significant opportunity there to enable information sharing as well.


Isabel McCurdy: Is there a cost associated with opening an account?

John O'Connor: No cost is associated with opening an account. The user does need to provide their own connection to the Internet and a web browser (which are free). The NCS picks up the tab for cost and maintenance of the servers.


Avagene Moore: How many users do you currently have?

John O'Connor: Currently we have over 500 accounts created, most of these are on an individual basis. Some, however, are group accounts since multiple people will be staffing an operations desk during an actual event.


Ann Willis: How many concurrent users can your site handle during an incident?

John O'Connor: The equipment in place can quite easily handle the current account load based on average file transaction of approx. 50Kb. Since it is a website, users are usually on and off the system, not camping on the server and tying up server resources.


Avagene Moore: Can you track the amount of traffic on any given day in the system?

John O'Connor: We can track those statistics in general since most of the traffic is event driven, it can vary widely. We are currently building the user base and that requires publishing and marketing the capability.


Chip Hines: John, do you prefer that an organization has individual accounts or one group?

John O'Connor: Chip, prefer individual accounts to facilitate the accountability of information published to the server.

Chip Hines: Thanks, John. We have time for a few more questions. Go ahead, Randy.


Randall Duncan: How is ERLink promoted, or is it right now?

John O'Connor: A number of ways. For example, the demo site <www.erlink.com> participating in users forums such as the Technology partnership conference last week and of course, participation in EIIP! Word of mouth has been very successful as well.

Rod Volz: From our perspective, it's not about growing our user base; it's about fulfilling a need in the EM community. In that sense, we are reaching out to the EM community to solicit ideas, feedback, and recommendations for how we can make ERLink as effective as possible.

Chip Hines: And speaking of the Conference, thanks to NCS for their support to last weeks forum! Ann, go ahead with your question.


Ann Willis: Have you looked at an intelligent push capability? See what information a specific account is accessing and then send updates automatically as they arrive.

John O'Connor: Ann, we are exploring technologies that are more proactive in notifying the user. "Push" is a great tool but you still need to develop the dissemination list and you need to capture the information from whatever source, agency, organization so that there is content that is meaningful and useful. Open for any suggestions regarding push you might have.

Final Question:

Chip Hines: I think we're about out of time for this outstanding presentation. Avagene, do you have some closing remarks?

Avagene Moore: Thanks Chip. Thanks to our speakers, of course. Join us Thursday evening at 8 PM EDT for our informal open Mutual Aid discussion --- any emergency management-related topic is welcome.

Next week is big. Join us for the Round Table on Tuesday, 1:00 PM EDT, August 4th. Wednesday, August 5, 12:00 Noon EDT, is our 1st Anniversary Celebration in the Virtual Forum. Don't miss that!

Our keynote speaker is Philippe Boulle, Director of the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). Mr. Boulle will speak to us from Geneva, Palais de Nations.

We will also honor our 100+ presenters of the year, including the speakers today, John O'Connor and Rod Volz. An exciting time! We appreciate everyone's support and encouragement this year. Please come to the gala event. Happy Birthday to the Virtual Forum!!! Thanks Chip for helping us today. Back to you, Chip.

Chip Hines: 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.