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Shook but not beaten: video catalyzes California quake relief.


When Northern California was rocked on Oct. 17, dozens of state government agencies moved fast.

The Office of Emergency Services (OES), State Department of Transportation, California National Guard, State Fire Marshal, Emergency Medical Services Authority, California Conservation Corp., and Highway Patrol got together to help local emergency efforts.

On Oct. 21, with immediate response needs met, the coalition of state and local agencies shifted operations to earthquake-recovery needs.

Massive Task

Coordinators of this Promethean enterprise had to make sure activities and decisions by agencies in Sacramento jibed with those by agencies 200 miles away at the Disaster Field Office (DFO) in Mountain View.

A temporary videoconferencing system helped unify operations between those two cities and between them and Regional Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in San Francisco.

Each morning, OES staff in Sacramento and representatives of OES and other state agencies in Mountain View conferenced over the video link in an information-sharing forum.

"The benefits of videoconferencing were tremendous," says Nancy Hardaker, public information officer at OES.

"During a crisis like this, evrryone must work rapidly on a great number of different projects with ever-changing priorities.

"Unless they are brought together--either in one physical room or through videoconferencing--someone is bound to be inadvertently left out of the information flow."

The DFO opened Oct. 21.

The videoconferencing system--donated by Compression Labs Inc. (CLI), San Jose--was installed Nov. 1.

Voice Not Enough

Before the installation, state officials had communicated via telephone conference calls--an inadequate solution.

"I was pleased at how valuable it was to be able to see the people at the other end--their gestures and facial expressions," Hardaker says.

More than $66 million went to people from state and federal government in the two months after the quake.

More than $20 million was set aside for public entities such as local governments, to repair buildings and property.

The videoconferencing link was of great benefit to DFO and OES staff in determining daily priorities and coordinating agency efforts, Hardaker says.

On Saturday, Dec. 9, state officials were on hand to dedicate a newly opened, 42-unit mobile home park in Watsonville to house area residents left homeless by the quake.

The project, the first of four parks planned, was coordinated by the State Department of Housing and Community Development (in Sacramento).

It required collaboration among:

* OES,

* the county government in Watsonville, which identified the land for the park,

* and CalTrans, which graded the site, paved roads, and erected fencing.

Pinpoint With Graphics

Through videoconferences, the different agencies exchanged progress reports, determined responsibilities, and gained approvals.

Participants used videoconferencing's graphics function to display maps of the area.

This allowed participants to see exactly where parks were to be built.

CLI's portable Gallery 2000 videoconferencing-room systems included:

* two monitors for simultaneous viewing of people and visual aids,

* high-quality sound,

* graphics units,

* and easy-to-use room controllers.

CLI's Rembrandt codecs digitized and compressed video signals for economic transmission over digital networks.

Pacific Bell donated highspeed T1 digital service (1,544 Mb/s).

The equipment was installed in less than a week.

"I've been involved in a lot of disaster efforts over the years," says OES Chief Deputy Director Don Irwin, "and the videoconferencing system is the best aid I've used.

"Without it, people would have to travel to the field office either every day or every other day, or spend three or four days there at a time."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Southworth, Glen
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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