Edited Version July 26, 2000 Transcript
EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation

"OpsCenter: Virtual EOC Application"

Jim Cook
Senior Client Services Manager
Essential Technologies

Amy Sebring: Moderator
EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the July 26, 2000 online Virtual Tech Arena presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). 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 to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Tech Arena!

Our topic today is "OpsCenter: Virtual EOC Application," and Jim Cook, CEM, is here to do the honors. Jim has been with Essential Technologies for a little over two years, and is currently a Senior Client Services Manager in the Contingency Management Business Unit. (He tells us that that means he is not a sales person!) Prior to joining Essential, he was the Assistant Director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency (AFCEMA), where he served for about 18 years, including the 1996 Olympics.

Welcome Jim, and thank you for taking the time to be with us as a presenter today.


Jim Cook: Thanks Amy. For those of you that are not familiar with Essential Technologies, let me take a minute to introduce the company. Essential Technologies, Inc., was founded in the 1997 merger of EIS International and Envirometrics Software, Inc., the top providers of Environmental and Contingency Management software. Today, with more than 11,000 systems installed in 30 countries, Essential Technologies is dominating those markets.

On May 1, 2000 Essential Technologies Inc., announced a major partnership with Alert Technologies Corporation, to bring together the market leader and the next generation technology leader for e-business Contingency Management.

This major technological step began with a distributor agreement that makes Essential the primary reseller for OpsCenter Virtual EOC, by Alert Technologies, an Application Service Provider (ASP) in Pleasanton, Calif. According to a Memorandum of Understanding signed at the same time, Alert and Essential Technologies agreed to pursue a merger in the near future.

Founded in 1996 as a private company, Alert Technologies Corporation is a leading Application Service Provider of emergency management solutions that provide effective management of resources and costs during natural disasters and other business-related emergencies. Alert Technologies solutions are designed for use in Fortune 500 corporations, mid-size companies and government agencies. For more information about Alert Technologies, visit < http://www.alerttech.com>. Now let's type/talk about the OpsCenter.

OpsCenter is an easy-to-use decision management tool that will help you manage the status and your responses to multiple concurrent incidents, monitor daily operations, track human and material resources and access your plans, procedures & checklists. OpsCenter is available as a self-hosted application or through a professional ASP host. The latter enables users in the commercial sector along with federal, state and local government agencies to avoid the expense and logistics of building and staffing an Information Technology (IT) infrastructure.

For those that don't want to bear the expense of a dedicated Emergency Operations Center (EOC), OpsCenter makes the virtual EOC a reality. The ASP model is the future of software industry. Pretty soon everyone will subscribe to software at work and at home and pay for only what they use.

The major benefits of OpsCenter are that the user only requires a Web-browser - no software to install or maintain. You can create a "Virtual EOC" and be able to access OpsCenter from any location via a browser. Security is role-based. OpsCenter allows controlled sharing of the information with others through user permissions. It is an effective exercise tool. OpsCenter can be used immediately without the need for data entry. It is easy to learn with minimal training needed. There is automatic audit/journal tracking of actions & activities.

The major features of OpsCenter include the ability to track your personnel, resources, supplies, equipment for their available, allocated, deployed status. You can manage information about organizations, facilities, shelters, suppliers, contacts, and other agencies. OpsCenter provides status Information tracking of all incidents. It easily links to plans, and other sites & data OpsCenter is configurable by you to focus on the functions and information you want and need. A state emergency management organization could install and use all the functionally of OpsCenter while making only the Resource Request (personnel, equipment, funds) screen available to each local emergency management organization.

Now let's get into OpsCenter and show you how it works. You use your browser to connect to the OpsCenter Web server which can be ASP-hosted or self-hosted.


Because you can connect to OpsCenter from anywhere, when you first login, your Personal Information page indicates who you are, what role or roles you are performing, and how to reach you. You may update this information to reflect your current location. You must authorized ahead of time to have access to the system.

"Roles" are key - they consist of the functions you will be performing & the information you will need. OpsCenter comes with a set of pre-defined roles but you can configure your own to suit your needs. This gives users one-click access to the specific information relating to their specific responsibilities. This makes OpsCenter easy to learn and use.


Because users can connect to OpsCenter from anywhere, the Staffing Report tells everyone who is logged on, in what role, and how long they have been working. This report also tells everyone, particularly the Incident Commander or EMA Director, who is authorized to fill empty positions and how to contact him or her. This information is automatically refreshed by the system.


Most every OpsCenter screen consists of three panels. They are the Shortcut Panel, the Status Board, and the Detail Area. The Shortcut Panel indicates your selected role(s) and the shortcuts to the specific functions that you've decided the role requires. Contained within the Shortcut Panel there are hot buttons to bring up Status Boards, Reports, Checklists and Data Entry. The Status Board is a summary of the information for area of the database you are currently in. The Detail Area shows all of the information concerning the particular data record you are viewing.



Let's talk a little about System Requirements and Architecture. The System Requirements for an OpsCenter server are really very simple, but not necessarily inexpensive. Of course if you are going to subscribe to an ASP your only requirement is to have access to the Internet and be running Internet Explorer 4.0. If you are going to build or utilize your own server you will need the following.


OpsCenter uses the industry-standard 3-tier architecture. This means that the Display Tier (what the user sees) only requires a browser. The Middle Tier is a set of components that transmits data through the web server to the Data Tier.

The Data Tier can be SQL Server or Oracle. All 3 Tiers can run on the same machine, all on separate machines, or any variation in between. Because OpsCenter runs in a true 3-tier architecture there are installation options available to provide you with everything from high security and high data availability to a low cost, entry level solution. The following is an example of a self-hosted system.


In the entry level category there is our standard ASP deployment.


In the high-security / high data availability area there we can also do the following.


As Emergency Managers I know you are all concerned about the 24 hour, 7 day a week, availability of your data. Like I mentioned earlier, the trend in the software industry is toward utilizing ASP's. When considering a vendor to be your Application Service Provider, you should consider the following as MINIMUM requirements of your ASP.

[SLIDE 10]

hat raps up my presentation of OpsCenter, the next generation in Emergency Management software. If you would like a full demonstration on the software please call our sales staff at 1-800-999-5009 and they arrange for a full demonstration right over the web. You can also download a PowerPoint presentation on OpsCenter from our web site at < http://www.essential-technologies.com>.

I see we are joined by Jim Paulson, CTO of Alert Technologies. I am sure he will step in to answer any questions I can not. I will now entertain questions.

[Audience Questions /Comments]

Amy Sebring: Thank you for that overview, Jim. We can get into more detail during Q&A. 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 now invite your questions/comments.


David Crews: Is there more than one ASP site to insure redundancy and survival at the server location?

Jim Cook: We can provide that service as needed.


Rick Tobin: Two questions. First, why require only Internet Explorer and also only a certain version (4 is not the most recent)? You can't expect users to revert to an earlier browser when implementing a new system. Second, you say it refreshes automatically. Some firewalls don't allow this. How did you deal with that?

Jim Cook: 4.0 is the minimum. There are some issues with Netscape we are working out. It works, it just does not look as good as we would like. Firewall requirements vary. We have to look at each one we get to them. Jim P. do you have anything to add?

Jim Paulson: Rick, I agree with Jim Cook's answer. The specifics of every firewall are different and we work with them on an individual basis. I do not believe we have allowed a firewall to prevent refresh from working yet.


Joe Boyer EQE: What is your proposal for entering the system during infrastructure failure? For example, power, phone asp connection etc.

Jim Cook: You can build a system that is contained within your EOC. Anytime you connect to the outside you have to plan for communication failure. There are many options available to you.


Chris Post: Jim, are there any plans to integrate your OpsCenter with wireless mobile data MDTs and/or wireless devices to allow users in the field or remote locations?

Jim Cook: Because OpsCenter is browser based mobile communications is a lot easier. We have to look at the specific MDT you want to use.

Jim Paulson: We have had some customer's use/test OpsCenter over wireless. It worked fine but was somewhat slow because of the limited bandwidth.


Scott E. Jones: What about mapping? What sort of data needs to be provided by the user?

Jim Cook: We use map objects for mapping. Jim P. is going to add some info on mapping

Jim Paulson: Scott, we have fully integrated GOIS mapping available but you must install an application. (i.e. not just a browser is required). We are almost done with making the same functionality available through just the browser. It actually works now if you disable the security of your browser but since we think this is not prudent, we do not mention mapping when selling/demonstrating the system.


Amy Sebring: Thanks Jim P. Joe Boyer was next. I believe his question regarding communications interruptions was at least partially answered. Jim, you mentioned other options. Can you elaborate some on alternatives?

Joe Boyer EQE: We have found several solutions to remote communications and Internet access with data rates from 9.6 to 128 k per laptop. Glad to talk off line 910-270-3734 EQE International. We have also designed software that may complement your capability. What is your proposal for entering the system during infrastructure failure?

Jim Cook: You could dial directly into the server at the EOC if you needed to over a cell phone.


Kenny Shaw: Hello from Arkansas. You said earlier that no software was required, then that you can "demo" the software. Do we need software or not? I'm confused.

Jim Cook: OpsCenter is browser based on the client end. Did that answer your question Kenny?

Kenny Shaw: Yes.


Amy Sebring: Jim, you would just need to set up access would you not for demo purposes?

Jim Cook: For a demo. All that is needed is IE4 (or greater) on your end and a phone call to a Salesperson to set up the demo.


Dennis Dura: What are the fees?


Jim Cook: As an example, a five (5) user license runs between $7,000 and $12,000 depending on whether you purchase the software, want a self-host subscription, or want an ASP hosted subscription. The most economical would be a self-hosted subscription for 5 licenses at about $7,000 a year. You should note that with the annual subscriptions our standard 24/7 Technical Support is included. When you purchase the software out-right there is an annual Extended Service Plan available for 20% of the cost of the software. Of course I would be remiss if I did not make sure you understand that volume = discount and we intent to be very competitive in the marketplace. Our sales staff would be glad to provide you with a quote based on your specific needs.


Scott E. Jones: We were planning to use ArcView for mapping. That should be compatible with Map Objects, if I'm not mistaken?

Jim Paulson: Our mapping functionality, which is in production at several customer sites, can import shape files, which is the default file format for ARCView, ARCInfo and others.


Fred Baehl: My experience with Cells is that they are generally not available during an emergency. Would satellite phone work?

Jim Cook: Absolutely. I can't speak as to the speed of various systems.


Amy Sebring: David Tran asked, how long the demo would take, Jim?

Jim Cook: We customize the demo just as we would any regular sales presentation. It should not take longer than an hour or so.


Heather Guse: Is OpsCenter only geared toward Emergency Management Agencies or is there a market for private corporate use, such as in property management control centers?

Jim Cook: OpsCenter is currently running in a LARGE corporate environment. We can do small corporate environments as well!


Jim Paulson: A quick note on performance over wireless: We have built in the ability to "throttle" the refresh rate of the system so that you will still get good performance over slow links. Of course, there is a limit to how slow it can go.


Deena Myers: Can you elaborate more on pricing? 7K gets me 5 user licenses self-hosted? Do I buy a server?

Jim Cook: You have to provide the hardware as well as the NT and SQL licenses.


Rick Tobin: Have you discussed the need for extra staff support in situations that involve a number of clients simultaneously--say a large quake somewhere in the US and 5 or more clients want assistance immediately--say at 3:00 a.m. on a holiday weekend? Do you have a triage system for that kind of situation?

Jim Cook: Great question. The check is in the mail. There is a built-in system for allowing you unlimited access for a short period of time (30 days) during an emergency. We understand your needs can change quite quickly.


Amy Sebring: Jim, for those who might have come in later on, can you put up the info again where to get more specifics on pricing and demo?

Jim Cook: There is a PowerPoint at <http://www.essential-technologies.com> and you can call us at 1-800-999-5009. We can set up a remote demo at almost any time.

Anthony S. Mangeri: Jim, we would like to see the PowerPoint. However, we are not authorized to give all the data asked for to have access.


David Crews: What is the estimated minimum amount of manning needed to effectively operate the software and make data entries in a large disaster? e.g., a large hurricane event?

Jim Cook: Alert Technologies has made OpsCenter VERY easy to use. Because a person is assigned roles the person using the system only sees the few things on the shortcut (menu) bar they are supposed to. It is hard to say how many people it would take to operate the software. I have been in plenty of EOC's. You have got to raise and lower the data entry people as needed.

Joseph Quaranta: This really could make life easier but as with any software product one needs to interact with it and develop a working relationship.


Amy Sebring: Either Jim, do you have any plans to integrate instant messaging or chat?

Jim Cook: We can/do that. That was easy. We use COT software whenever possible.


George Gardner: What information is contained in the supplier section? Can one track vendor products & services ? Purchase on-line?

Jim Paulson: We provide limited direct access to suppliers currently, but have work in progress that will provide substantial access. If you are willing to share your requirements in this area I would be very interested in hearing them but we should probably take it off line.

Jim Cook: In the resource area we look after people, hardware (cars, chainsaws, etc.), facilities and suppliers.


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much for being with us today BOTH Jims. We very much appreciate your time and effort. Please stand by a moment while we take care of some business.

First, I would like to mention that in follow up to our session on drought last week, we received a notice from the USGS that there was a briefing on "Water Management During Drought: Lessons Learned" in Washington, D.C. this morning presented by a number of agencies. It was being taped, and if it becomes available via the Web, we will post the link to the background page for our drought session.

Speaking of transcripts, today's session will be accessible via the Transcripts link on our home page on Monday, including links to the slides. The text version will be up later today.

Next week, we are planning a session around the continuing loss of life due to driving through flooded roadways.

Our schedule for August will be out later this week, and the next issue of our monthly newsletter will also be out shortly. If you are not on our mailing list, see <http://mail.wces.net:81/guest/RemoteListSummary/EIIP> to subscribe.

Thanks to all our participants today. We will adjourn the session for now, but you are welcome to remain for open discussion. You no longer need to use question marks. Please help us express our appreciation to Jim for today's presentation.