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How the GSA responds to emergencies.

The opening scene: a television camera moves in to show a closeup of the shambles left in the wake of a devastating hurricane. Wires are down, streets are flooded, trees are uprooted, and homes and buildings have been torn to pieces by gale-force winds.

People are wandering around in need of food, water, medicine, sleeping facilities and clothing. Behind-the-scenes delivery of services is invisible.

While the television screen portrays the natural disaster as one of utter chaos, if the television camera wre turned the other way, you would see the delivery of telecommunications services in a well-organized manner.

As hopeless as the situation portrayed above appears, disaster recovery operations are well on their way. GSA's (General Services Administration) Regional Emergency Communications Coordinators are on the scene many times before a disaster strikes. They are working diligently to establish contact with the telecomm vendors in the area to get telecommunications up and running in the Disaster Field Offices and Disaster Assistance Centers.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, other federal and state agencies, local governments and the American Red Cross must have telecommunications to begin disaster recovery operations.

GSA's regional emergency communications coordinators speed up disaster recovery.

The federal government's disaster telecommunications response effort is more organized than most people perceive. It is effective by virtue of the role of GSA's "unsung heros" and the effort put forth toward disaster preparedness--planning, training, coordination and exercise participation.

Emergency coordinators work around the clock, coordinating with the telecomm vendors on the restoration and provisioning of PBXs, trunks, lines, data and facsimile transmissions, switches, radio equipment and other portable telecomm equipment.

When telephone systems become overloaded, regional emergency coordinators make extensive changes, rearrangements and realignment of telecomm equipment and systems within the on-site Disaster Field Offices and Disaster Application Centers.

Multi-line processing

On the most important concerns is to enable disaster victims to apply for assistance. GSA emergency coordinators establish multi-line processing systems to allow disaster victims to place a telephone call to an 800 number. Computer entries are made of conversations and required information is then translated on a prescribed form for further processing.

In addition, Telecommuications Devices for the Deaf/Speech-impaired (TDD) are provided on an 800 number at a Disaster Field Office for disaster victims who must use a TDD to communicate their application for federal disaster assistance.

Although we don't normally raise our voices to expound publicly upon our involvement, there are times when GSA and its people should be recognized for their outstanding contributions to the government's telecomm disaster and emergency response efforts. GSA is effective by virtue of the structure it has established in each of the GSA 10 Standard Federal Regions. The GSA Zonal Emergency Communications Planners (ZECPs) serve as the focal point for all disaster and emergency telecomm planning.

The federal disaster response community operates on the premise that "practice makes perfect." The art of disaster recovery is perfected through periodic exercises which simulate actual disasters.

GSA participates in desktop exercises with the National Communications System, Federal Emergency Management Agency, other federal agencies, industry, and state and local government representatives. Exercises clarify who would serve in various roles, equipment ordering and reporting procedures, and the resolution of problems.

The foundation of any disaster preparedness program is planning. GSA would be unable to adequately respond to disasters in the absence of a trained staff, at the national level, to pay attention to such issues as anticipating damage caused by disasters; performing critical GSA functions and continuity of goverment activities; establishing a database of telecomm products and services; and having a well-trained regional staff versed in National Security Emergency Preparedness (NSEP) response efforts, with the ability to put all the pieces together.

The first of the road maps is the Federal Response Plan (FRP). It describes and defines the basic mechanisms, structures and policies by which the federal government mobilizes resources and conducts activities to augment state and local efforts in disaster recovery. The 12 Emergency Support functions in the plan are assigned to a primary agency with additional agencies providing support.

The National Plan for Telecomm Support During Non-wartime Emergencies establishes procedures for planning and using national telecomm assets and resources.

Telecommunications plays a vital role in disaster recovery. Within the federal government, agencies join together to coordinate NSEP telecommunications issues through participation in the National Communications System (NCS), a confederation of 23 departments and agencies.

NCS serves as a focal point for joint industry-government planning, which is accomplished with the member companies of the President's National Security Telecommunication Advisory Committee (NSTAC).

GSA responds to an average of 37 presidentially declared disasters per year. Its success is a tribute to the dedication and cooperative efforts of both federal agencies and private industry. Available telecommunications is the essential ingredient allowing emergency coordinators to communicate, mobilize and begin recovery operations.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Disaster Recovery; General Services Administration
Author:Shelley, Rose Ann
Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1994
Words:800
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