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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

City flaunts new high-tech emergency center

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mayor Jeremy Harris rescued 1,200 students and a dying heart attack victim from the Kaimuki area yesterday after a flash flood in Manoa knocked out electrical power and sent monkeypod trees crashing down on Kapi'olani Boulevard.

Then the mayor took an electronic eraser, wiped the disaster off the shiny SMART Board computer display screen in the Civil Defense Agency's new emergency operating center, and started over again.

Surrounded by officials from civil defense, fire, police, park, emergency, water, dispatch, bus and environmental services, Harris showed off the command post the city began planning within days of Sept. 11 last year.

The school children were "rescued" in the disaster exercise by dispatching 20 city buses to the scene after city workers and firefighters cut through the supposedly downed trees. An ambulance reached the school through an adjacent park when cybermaps revealed it as the fastest route.

In addition to having a bunch of new bells and whistles, the new center is about triple the space of the old command post in civil defense offices in the basement of the Honolulu Municipal Building.

There was a souvenir from the old days on one wall: a plastic-covered map with a few red dots on it.

The dots in the new center are electronic ones, and they designate everything from where the roadblocks should go to where the ambulances are at any given moment.

Harris and city Managing Director Ben Lee drew on the SMART Board map display with an electronic pen to show how they might pinpoint damaged structures, re-direct traffic, and get an ambulance crew across some open park to that imaginary school teacher who suffered a heart attack in yesterday's excitement.

The city's response to civil defense emergencies today is enhanced by a data-rich geographical information system, Harris said.

A variation of that program, an economic information system, could help Honolulu get out of the economic doldrums caused by fall-out from last year's terrorist attacks.

A businessman in New York, Harris said, can log on to the city's Web site and find, for example, a retail building for sale on Bishop Street, and also learn how many 17-year-old females live within half a mile of the spot where he might want to open a clothing store.

Civil Defense Administrator Robert "Doug" Aton said the Sept. 11 attacks "have changed the face of emergency management forever." The new command center enables key city department heads to provide overall control and sharing of resources in an emergency, Aton said. He added that the city has to be ready for everything from natural disasters to weapons of mass destruction, the "weapon of choice for terrorists."