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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

E TEAM—E Team Is on the Job in New York Within Minutes

While terrorists were somewhere putting the final touches on their plan to use two highjacked 767s to kill thousands and permanently alter the New York skyline, Matt Walton was in Manhattan wrapping up a deal with his new client: New York City’s Office of Emergency Management. Four days later the OEM’s headquarters inside the World Trade Center Building 7 were reduced to rubble as a result of the collapse of Towers 1 and 2 next door, making a victim of the very agency created to provide emergency public assistance to the city. Fortunately, the building had been completely evacuated before it was toppled, and fortunately the agency had just signed a contract with Walton’s company, Canoga Park-based E Team Inc. E Team makes a Web-based suite of tools designed to allow multiple agencies or departments to coordinate relief and recovery efforts during emergencies such as fires, earthquakes, riots and the once unthinkable here on American soil large-scale acts of terrorism. The technology gives emergency event coordinators at all levels of government and large, private firms a way to plug in to a shared network of emergency management information, accessing what Walton, the firm’s president and CEO, calls a “whiteboard in the sky.” For example, as the OEM worked with local relief and emergency medical representatives last week to search for and pull victims from the wreckage of the Twin Towers, they were using E Team software to find out which hospitals were open and how many wounded they could take on. Emergency relief personnel out in the field can use the technology right from their laptops or hand-held computers to communicate with colleagues about the status of a critical event. That includes, for instance, finding out where the biggest stockpile of stretchers are located and who can get them there the fastest. They even have access to detailed maps of the disaster site right down to the tiniest alley. “We are talking about being able to access information on everything from blood supplies to blankets to bulldozers,” said Walton. The E Team core technology was originally developed in 1985 by a now-defunct Westlake Village defense contractor called Illusion as the first wireless Internet-based network for the U.S. military. Then came the Northridge Earthquake in 1994 and it became apparent the same applications could be used in civilian rescue efforts. That was the company’s first commercial application and public success story. “It seemed to us that a natural disaster, particularly one of this kind we now have on our hands, is very much like a war,” said Walton, who served as Ilusion’s vice president for strategy. Then as the aerospace and defense industry slowly began to slip from the radar screen, the nation became obsessed with preparations for Y2K. Walton spun off E Team from Illusion in 1998 and the city of Los Angeles recruited it for a trial run to see how well the system would work should all hell break lose at midnight on Dec. 31, 1999. “We were looking for something that was commercially off the shelf, or something we could get for a cheap price with a license and if technology changed we could get an upgrade without much trouble,” said Ellis Stanley, the general manager of the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Department. Stanley served in the same capacity he has with L.A. for the Atlanta-Fulton County (Ga.) Emergency Management Agency during the 1996 Summer Olympics, during which a bomb exploded, killing one person and injuring 111. He said he wished he had the E Team tools then to help aid workers during the aftermath of that event. Stanley said his next step is to build a system that would link every downtown building so the city could communicate with businesses during an emergency. But that won’t come easily. Companies are often reticent to share information about their infrastructures, particularly their emergency procedures, said Stanley. “With E Team, we know we have a tool that would make that possible, but what we have to do is change our attitudes and our rules between what’s proprietary and what’s sensitive,” he said. “As a community there are some things we should agree that should be shared.” E Team was used by the city to manage events during the National Democratic Convention in July of last year and will also be used by the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command for the 2002 Winter Games. Other clients include the U.S. Department of Transportation, Toyota of North America, Warner Bros. Studios, the states of Arizona, Louisiana, West Virginia and Utah, and some Valley-based companies Walton declined to name. Naturally, officials from New York’s OEM department were not unavailable for comment. Annual licenses for the E Team application cost $400, and the tools are accessed through Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. Layers of participation vary depending on the number of Internet-connected computers the licensee has. Stanley said the city of Los Angeles has about 250 licensed users on line now who are hooked up to eight different servers. Walton declined to disclose revenues for the privately held company, but Stanley said the city has spent upwards of $200,000 on the E Team so far. Like most Americans, Walton learned of last Tuesday’s attack on television. The immediate reaction, he said, was very personal, given the new and close relationship with OEM staff. Then came the shock of realizing that the events unfolding will likely prove to be his company’s biggest test putting it in a rather reluctant position to enjoy its success. “We set out to develop a system to deal with the unthinkable, not really ever realizing that we would one day actually deal with something so unthinkable,” said Walton.

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