dramatic increases in workload. Even the engineers responsible for designing
and developing NEMIS questioned whether the system could consistently
manage workloads resulting from multiple, concurrent disasters. Although
the Florida hurricanes entailed one of the largest response and recovery efforts
in FEMA's history, workload volumes from multiple, large disasters in the
future could far exceed the systems processing levels required to manage the
Systems Are Old and Not Adaptable to Change
FEMA's response and recovery applications are custom designed, complex,
outdated, and difficult to adapt to changing user needs. As a result, during
disaster response and recovery operations, FEMA has had to adjust its
processes to overcome the systems limitations. For example, ADD was
designed in such a manner that it cannot be easily updated. Currently, it is
difficult to enter into ADD the financial information necessary to issue credit
cards, commonly known as supercards, for emergency response personnel.
As a result, FEMA officials created separate, stand alone databases to track
the financial information rather than submit their ADD change requirements
to the CIO's office for implementation.
Further, the mail processing center at the National Processing Service Center
in Hyattsville, Maryland, was unable to handle the surge in letter production
required during the Florida hurricanes. FEMA employees select and print
batches of letters to the victims, categorized by different disaster situations.
However, this process became difficult during the 2004 hurricanes because of
the increased volume of letters that had to be prepared. No provision had
been made for surge printing capability.
CIO officials worked to address the letter generation problem. After 7 to 10
days of effort, they succeeded in improving the system code, helping to reduce
the print backlog. However, a contractor later examined the system code and
found it to be extremely complex, requiring 20 pages of code to print what
newer, more efficient code can do in one line. The contractor recommended
rewriting the code; the NEMIS development team currently is investigating
ways to address this issue.
In addition to revising the system code to address the print backlog, FEMA
changed the business process, instituting a workaround that involved creating
one standard letter to send to all disaster victims. The standard letter helped
speed up the victim notification process. However, the letter was too generic,
did not provide victims the information they needed, and did not clearly
Emergency Preparedness and Response Could Better Integrate Information Technology
with Incident Response and Recovery