FEMA considers new software to fill 'gaps' in disaster plans

As it reorganizes, adds new regional planners, and tries to become more nimble, the DHS's FEMA agency is also using a new emergency response methodology in meetings with state and local governments.

NEW YORK CITY (BetaNews) - Still in the throes of a major reorganization, the US Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS)'s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now starting to use a methodology called the "Gap Analysis Tool" as an aid to emergency response planning, and there is some possibility that the tool will eventually be turned into a software application.

In a speech at this week's Maritime Security Conference in New York, Marko Bourne, the director of FEMA's Office of Policy and Program Analysis, said that FEMA has been undergoing "significant reorganization (and) significant increases to staff" over the past 18 months, so as to "improve the ability to handle logistics."

The staff increases have included the addition of operational planners to all of FEMA's regional offices in the US, according to Bourne.

The intent behind FEMA's revampment is to make FEMA's activities "much more nimble than in the past," he told the conference attendees.

In meetings with state and local agencies, FEMA's new regional planners are using the "Gap" tool to help fill in any holes around emergency response to natural disasters and terrorist attacks, Bourne said.

But Bourne also maintained during his talk that FEMA is now striving hard to work collaboratively "alongside" state and local agencies around coordination and pre-plannning.

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, FEMA came under attack for its response to that crisis by a wide range of individuals and groups. Mike Brown, the director of FEMA during the Katrina disaster, stepped down from that post in September 2005.

In his presentation this week, Bourne said that FEMA is now giving some thought to share its new methodology for emergency response methodology by issuing software templates based on the Gap Analysis Tool at some point down the road.

But, he added, FEMA also wants to avoid giving anyone the misimpression that the federal agency is using the tool to "scorecard" local and state agencies, or in other words, to rate them against each other.

Speaking with BetaNews afterward, Bourne said that although the Gap Analysis Tool is largely a paper-based approach right now, it does include use of some software simulations.

After serving earlier in this decade as acting director of the DHS' National Incident Management System Integration Center, and deputy director of FEMA's Preparedness Division, and then leaving government in 2004 for a job with Earth Tech Inc., Bourne rejoined FEMA in October 2006.

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