Edited Version February 24, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation

"DVIS: Disaster Victim Information Exchange System"

Edward Addy
North American Center for Emergency Communications (NACEC)

The original unedited transcript of the February 24, 1999 Tech arena presentation 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: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum Tech Arena!

For the benefit of our first-timers, when you see a blue web address, you can click on it and the referenced web page should appear in a browser window. After the first one, the browser window may not automatically come to the top, so you may need to bring it forward by clicking on a button at the status bar at the bottom of your screen.

Right before we begin the Q&A portion I will review how to submit questions.

Today we are pleased to welcome Edward Addy, founder of NACEC, North American Center for Emergency Communications to tell us about DVIS: Disaster Victim Information Exchange System. Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/varena/990224.htm> and Edward's bio and picture may be found at <http://www.nacec.org/founder.html> I especially like the photo of Edward at the South Pole near the bottom!

I know Edward has been hard at work on the DVIS program, so let's get to it. Welcome Edward and thank you for taking the time to be with us today.


Edward Addy: Greetings Everyone from sunny Minnesota. I would like to thank all of you for your interest in our Disaster Victim Information Exchange System which we call DVIS. I think it is important to start by saying that DVIS is designed for use with fairly large scale disasters, those effecting from 1,000 to several million individuals. It is also designed to be used, if necessary, with several different disasters taking place in different geographical area simultaneously.

When you look under the hood, DVIS is just an advanced, yet simple, end to end data processing system. It is designed to provide a simple, fast and economical way for those non-profit organizations and government agencies that are actively involved in providing disaster response to exchange victim information so they can do their jobs more efficiently.

For the DVIS system to be most effective it needs the participation of as many disaster response organizations and agencies as possible. Those organizations and agencies that are registered to use the system, are referred to as User Groups.

The system operates like this.


The concept is simple. Share information. Every disaster response organization collects information but only has a small portion of the information within the disaster area. They all could benefit by having access to the entire picture, but it is just not economical for them to try to collect it all.

This is where DVIS can come into play. As each organization and agency comes on board as a User Group and completes their 1 to 2 hour self paced training program, they join the other User Groups gaining the ability to share and exchange the information that they have available in their respective disaster response operations.

By working together with NACEC a lot can be accomplished with the DVIS system. One thing is the ability to much more quickly reunite family members that have been displaced or evacuated to different mass care facilities within the disaster area. This can be a real stress saver for a lot of people, and a life saver for others that need special medication which may be in the possession of other family members.

Yet another major change that can be brought about by this team effort is the diversion of some of the heavy telephone traffic that comes flooding into the disaster area from concerned family members located outside of the disaster area. This is possible because DVIS uses the Internet World Wide Web as its communications platform. Because the World Wide Web is so available and so economical to access, User Group Organizations and Agencies can set up phone banks far from the disaster area to handle all of the thousands of calls that would normally need to flow into the disaster area.

Because DVIS files can only be accessed by providing the home phone number of the person being searched for, the phone number also can act as an effective security system for the individuals data file.

This helps to protect those that may not want to be found because of domestic problems, such as the possibility of child abduction or abuse from an ex-spouse. In almost all cases, the first step that these people make is to get an unlisted number and only give it out to those that they want to have it. Thus, unless the person has this unlisted number, they do not have a way to access the data.

Because the data uses this simple security system, the ability to conduct searches can be made available to the public via the NACEC Web Site located at <http://www.nacec.org>. Making search capability available on the web can divert thousands of more calls from entering the disaster area.

These efforts to divert calls away from the disaster area can drastically help to free up phone lines needed, within the disaster area, by relief organizations to coordinate and conduct their operations.

If you want to give a search a try go to this training search page and enter the sample phone number. See how long it takes to get the report back to you. I would be surprised if it was more then 5 seconds.


The process is simple. It starts with the User Group Organizations and Agencies having the people they assist in their mass care facilities fill out a simple 5 x 7 inch card that asks 11 questions and requires their signature. Here is a not-to-scale sample of the data collection card.


These forms are collected and then entered into the DVIS data base also via the Internet on a secured access web site using a simple form. Here is a sample Data Entry Form used for training.


If telephone service is limited within the disaster area, they can be queued into just about any e-mail program and sent to main computers as soon as telephone circuit time becomes available. These special formatted Data File E-mails, are recognized by the computer, taken apart and reassembled into a pure data file, then added to the data base. As these Data File E-mails are text only, they can be transferred quickly and efficiently even through the slower cellular telephone modems.

There are many other things that the DVIS system can do, but our time today is limited so I will quickly give you some additional information and open it up for questions.

The DVIS system is not limited to just use within North America, however for it to be used effectively, the location must have a good penetration of telephone service.

At the present time DVIS is being offered to those organizations and agencies world wide that wish to utilize it, without charge. However, no new User Groups will be added for the next 48 hours while the new automation software is being installed. Then to register they only need to go to <http://www.nacec.org/cgi-bin/dvis3> and select the New User Group Registration option.

If anyone has a question that did not get answered in this forum, they can direct them to me via e-mail to <[email protected]> or by phone at 1-612-798-4269.

That's all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed this short presentation on the DVIS system.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Edward.

Audience please enter a question mark (?) to indicate you wish to be recognized, go ahead and compose your comment or question, but wait for recognition before hitting the enter key or clicking on Send. We are ready to take your questions now.

[Audience Questions]


Jim Cook: It has been my experience that the American Red Cross is responsible for Disaster Welfare Inquiries. How are they responding to your system?

Edward Addy: Jim, the Red Cross does operate an internal system called DWI, but for the most part it is internal to their organization and the information is not quickly available to other organizations.


Joe Ashby: Do you require national/international organizations to register or can a local agency sign up, e.g., ARC or TSA?

Edward Addy: So far the Red Cross has been somewhat cool to the idea. I am not sure if the ARC's response being cold is not a matter of it not being their system. Local agencies can register as well.


Amy Sebring: Edward, your first major test of this system was Red River Flood? Can you share your experience there? Or in other disasters?

Edward Addy: It was quite an experience. We put the system into operations working with the Salvation Army. We collected data through their facility. The system was use by them as well as by FEMA and the SBA. It was also used by the public. The peak number of searches performed on the system in a 24 hour period was about 14,000. We had no problems and all seemed to like it.


Joe Ashby: What response from NVOAD or local VOADs?

Edward Addy: The folks at VOAD, seem to think it is OK as it helps to support their 4 C's concept.


George Richo: How does your system address the issues of victim(s) confidentiality?

Edward Addy: It makes the information only available to those that know the home phone number of the person being searched for. In the case of people that do not want to be found, we have found they often have unpublished phone numbers so their files can not be accessed by just anyone.


Amy Sebring: Edward, can you tell us a little about the training? 2 hours? Is it an online tutorial?

Edward Addy: Yes, the training is online and takes less then 1 hour in most cases. A new training program will be launched next week as part of the new automated system. This new system will allow training to be progress to be tracked and monitored by the Training Officers of the User Groups.


David Crews: Do you have a working relationship with the FEMA USAR Teams or Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT's)?

Edward Addy: Not yet, although we have worked with FEMA a bit in the past. Mainly providing them information on persons they were trying to locate within the disaster area, so they could get them in to finish their paperwork.


Amy Sebring: What is new about the new automated system?

Edward Addy: Mainly, that it handles most of the paperwork and allows us make some of the operations more secure, and more orderly. It also adds new services and capabilities to some of the existing ways we were doing things.


Amy Sebring: Have you worked in other disasters besides Red River?

Edward Addy: The DVIS system has not been used in much thus far as the official launch of the system was just made late last year. But NACEC has assisted with several disasters, An Earthquake in California, Flooding in Iowa and the Dakotas for instance.

Let me stress that the entire purpose if the DVIS is to share information between organizations and agencies. This is something that needs to be done for the benefit of all those working within the disaster area. And for all that are looking to serve the needs of the disaster victims.


George Richo: During a disaster every relief agency is at the mercy of the infrastructure so how can your system provide anything different if phone lines to the area are down for a significant period of time?

Edward Addy: GOOD QUESTION!. We have found that many times the Internet circuits are still operating as in many questions they do not use the same telephone system switch equipment as the local telephone system. If the local system is totally down, the data can be loaded into a computer in the e-mail format and then taken to a local ISP to be down loaded. Or a data entry point can be added at the ISP's location and the Information collection cards taken to that location in the building for data entry.


Joe Ashby: Attended victim registration seminar last year at Australia's Emergency Management Institute, any interest from down under?

Edward Addy: I see a lot of people from down under looking at the system, but no one has come on board yet. They are more then welcome to join in!!!


George Richo: So you're totally dependent on the Internet not being down at the time. And we know how secure the Internet is.

Edward Addy: I don't know about the Internet not being reliable. I have found it to actually be more reliable then the regular voice telephone system in many cases.

Another point that needs to be made along the same lines is that at present there is no other system like DVIS, so if we are out of service for a while, data can still be collected and entered into the system when communications becomes available, and the organization are still helped. We even had multiple access in the flooding in Fargo.

Amy Sebring: Internet is built with redundancy and I have just been reading where it did not go down during one of the major California earthquakes and if you have GETS access, you can use for data also. This is why I tend to recommend having a service that is NOT a local ISP, that is someone out of your immediate area.

Edward Addy: Yes, it is good to be up the chain where the ISP is using fibre.

Final Question:

Amy Sebring: Edward, you also have done communications support in these other disasters. Would you like to tell us a little about that experience?

Edward Addy: Yes, whenever we can. We have used a mix of Commercial UHV, VHF as well as DOD HF and Amateur Radio UHF, VHF and HF.

There are many good organizations out there that are community-based that can jump in and help with communications at the beginning of a disaster. We are hoping to expand our communications capability to have several commercial system in house that we can deploy into a disaster situation on short notice. This is actually our organizations strong skills point.

Communications internal to the disaster area is usually a major problem in most large disasters. There never seems to be enough of it available to cover all of the points needed to have smooth coordination between all of the departments within an organizations relief operation.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much for being with us today, Edward, and good luck with your efforts. I think it has real potential as more and more of the public become comfortable with the Internet and WWW.

Ava, can you give us a heads up for upcoming events?

Avagene Moore: Yes, Amy --- thank you. For March, our lineup looks good! We start out the month on Tuesday March 2, 1: 00 PM EST with a discussion led by our Partner, Unit for Sustainable Development and Environment (USDE) of the Organization of American States (OAS). The discussion is a follow up to their online conference on the Hemispheric Action Plan for Vulnerability Reduction in the Education Sector to Socio-Natural Disasters held October 19-23, 1998. OAS will hold an hour of discussion in English and one in Spanish --- this session has also been publicized through the OAS Mail List that the EIIP provides for OAS.

Next Wednesday March 3, EQE International (risk management company) has agreed to join us at 12:00 Noon EST in the Virtual Forum. See their web site <http://www.eqe.com>.

Might add for your information that Dr. Louise Comfort, University of Pittsburgh, will meet with her emergency management students in the Virtual Forum Partner room on Monday March 1. We are exploring bringing students into our session to interact with current practitioners --- we have a Student Day scheduled the latter part of March --- watch for that and plan to participate, please. That's about it for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Ava. Unfortunately, Edward has another appointment, and cannot stay, so let's give him a round of applause.

Lindsey Burke: (applause)

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much, Edward. <<clap, clap>>

Jennifer Suter: <clap, clap, clap>

Avagene Moore: Great job, Ed. Thank you!

Amy Sebring: Good job! Thank you, audience. We will adjourn for now, but you are invited to return now to the Virtual Forum room for open discussion.

Edward Addy: Thanks everyone, it was a pleasure to be here.