Virtual USA to aid first responders in the event of attack

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has announced a new information sharing initiative that will aid federal, state and local first responders in communicating better during emergencies, including biological and terror attacks.

Virtual USA, as the new program has been dubbed, will allow first responders nationwide to link tools and technologies to better allow the sharing of information, status of critical assets and locations, including power and water lines, flood detectors, emergency vehicle and ambulance locations, helicopter-capable landing sites, evacuation routes, weather and traffic conditions, and school and government building floor plans.

 “Our first responders need interoperable tools to make accurate and timely decisions during emergencies,” Napolitano said in a statement. “Virtual USA makes it possible for new and existing technologies to work together seamlessly during disaster response and recovery and gives the public an opportunity to contribute information in real-time to support the efforts of police officers, firefighters and other emergency management officials.”

Existing communications frameworks will be integrated within Virtual USS, which will utilize current information-sharing platforms and permit new and existing technologies to exchange information with each other seamlessly. In addition, dynamic information sharing among all federal, state and local first responders will be emphasized by the new program.

“Because Virtual USA uses open data standards and open source software, more states and localities can join this information exchange project,” Homeland Security's press release said.

Virtual USA was developed by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. It has operated as a pilot project in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia and Tennessee since February 2009.