Imagine it is 3 a.m. on a cold, winter morning and a quaint town in Middle America is sound asleep. Suddenly, the earth begins to shake, buildings tremble, and lamp posts fall onto the streets. The town has just experienced a 7.7 magnitude earthquake. No one has water or electricity, several bridges are impassible, and cell phone coverage is sparse. Local and state emergency operations centers have reports of injuries and people trapped in damaged buildings. A state of emergency has been declared and residents are looking for immediate relief, but some of the emergency resources necessary for effective disaster response are in neighboring towns and possibly even in neighboring states.
Often times when a local, tribal, state, or federal authority requires assistance from another authority after a disaster, much like the one described above, respective authorities set a process in motion to identify resource requirements, types of available resources, cost per day, and proximity.
Deployment and acquisition of assets, such as fire engines and buses, usually requires an agency-specific Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that is drafted and signed for provision of aid and delivery to the requesting authority. This process, called mutual aid request and acquisition, currently takes a minimum of 48 hours to complete in Kentucky. This lag in processing time is due to an insufficient capability to identify, locate, query, and acquire assistance. Because of this delay, states may experience more loss of lives, time, property, and money.
To mitigate this challenge, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responders Group launched an intrastate pilot in January 2012in partnership with the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management (KYEM). This pilot aimed to improve the mutual aid request and acquisition process through enhanced information sharing and streamlining the identification, request, and deployment of resources. Representatives from KYEM and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) partnered with S&T to develop and deploy workflows, tools, and a governance model to improve coordination, situational awareness, and deployment of mutual aid.
The workflow, tools, and governance model enabled the ability to share and discover mutual aid resource data (responders and equipment) within the state and across state lines. The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a national disaster-relief agreement offering interstate assistance during governor-declared states of emergency, and S&T’s Virtual USA® (vUSA) program are designed to assist with the cross-jurisdictional request and acquisition of data required to support mutual aid missions. KYEM has partnered with EMAC to package resource types into what are known as Mission Ready Packages (MRPs). MRPs are pre-determined response assets, such as earth-moving equipment or swift water search and rescue teams, that are organized, developed, trained, and exercised prior to an emergency or disaster, in order to expedite the response and reimbursement process. MRPs provide a useful framework for quick identification of resource packages in alignment with National Incident Management System-typing standards. MRPs include identification of personnel and equipment required to support specific missions and are categorized according to functional purpose.
Through this pilot, KYEM demonstrated the ability to share MRPs from local to state to national partners in real time at the Governor’s Emergency Management Workshop in December 2012. The goal of this pilot was to decrease total processing time of mutual aid requests.This decrease in time will allow residents to get the relief that they need so they can quickly rebuild their lives after a disaster.
Throughout the pilot, S&T supported KYEM by providing technical assistance and gathering requirements to develop applications that would enable the desired operational workflow. S&T helped integrate Kentucky’s existing information-sharing systems and external tools to save time and money. S&T also created an application that queries MRP content within a geospatial map for local, county, state, and federal stakeholders. S&T achieved this by working with KYEM to develop an MRP Toolbox for the request and acquisition process. The MRP toolbox is now deployed in KYEM’s production server environment and is linked to the Mutual Aid Support System (MASS) database, which provides accurate records of all available equipment, personnel, and MRPs. KYEM also has the capability to search for and display MRPs on their own viewer, called the Kentucky Awareness Analytical Tracking System (KAATS). Furthermore, from within the MASS interface, KYEM users may make available and broadcast MRPs from statewide Kentucky jurisdictions to the nation through the EMAC system.
“Kentucky's MASS is designed to show the status of resources used in response situations. Not only can first responders, planners, and decision makers see the location of resources within their community or state, resources in bordering states can be searched and requested using EMAC standards. Both public and private sector resources can be entered, requested, and tracked in MASS, while the information is tied to live real-time databases from the state level,”explained Doug Eades, System Integration Manager at KYEM.
As part of the transition of the MRP Toolbox and MASS, KYEM users were trained to use the technologies independently. “MASS allows real-time cataloging, viewing, requesting, and allocation of resources using both a database and mapping interface. This brings some powerful interstate communication and sharing of information. This resource common operating picture gives those responsible for life-saving decisions a tool that provides enormous real world information. Given the intense focus on intelligent resource allocation and budget tightening at all levels, MASS will help emergency directors make better decisions - faster and more affordably,” said Eades.
Although this pilot focused primarily on Kentucky, the impact is much further reaching. “The information-sharing capabilities and processes developed for this can be applied throughout the nation,” said Marc Caplan, S&T program manager. “Through this pilot, we’re aiming to develop a national model of interstate information sharing and data management that directly impacts the EMAC request process.”
In October 2012, S&T demonstrated the potential to discover and access MRP in a geospatial context at the NEMA 2012 Emergency Management Policy and Leadership Forum. KYEM Director and EMAC Chair John W. Heltzel presented the first review of the pilot to all 50 state directors. Heltzel urged the state directors to adopt the methodologies and is planning to make MASS available for use amongst the Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium states as they plan for the Capstone 2014 exercise.