FEMA Links Offices via ATM Network

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opted to develop a new Asynchronous Transfer Mode network to improve communications between disaster field offices, FEMA offices and the offices of other government agencies involved in disaster relief.

FEMA has selected Cisco Systems Inc. equipment for the new ATM network for voice, data and video that will link six FEMA sites.

FEMA's decision to use ATM follows a trend in wide-area network architecture, said Dawn Duross, Cisco account manager for FEMA.

"A lot of people are starting to look at ATM over wide-area networks," Duross said. The network gives FEMA a chance to pull voice, video and data together in one network and provide quicker relief to its disaster sites, she said.

The main force driving the converged network is cost, Duross said. With all three services on one network, FEMA will not have to pay for, maintain or train on separate networks, she said.

Videoconferencing via ATM, which FEMA has used in pilot projects, has turned out to be popular among decision-makers because it gives the agency enough bandwidth to do videoconferencing with capacity left over to run voice and data on one network.

"We are pretty excited about this because this kind of technology has been promised for years and it just hasn't proven out," said Bill Anderson, team leader of FEMA's Development and Implementation Branch. "This pretty much works as advertised."

Another feature that appealed to FEMA is the ATM network's management capabilities, which enable traffic to be prioritized so that bandwidth not being used by voice is available to data users, Anderson said.

"The key point about that is you have the ability to go from 3M to 10M based upon a change of demand, and it's pretty much on the fly," Anderson said.

FEMA has agreed to lease six Cisco IGX ATM switches and plans to deploy them by summer's end at FEMA headquarters, Washington, D.C.; at FEMA National Service Processing Centers in Denton, Texas, Hyattsville, Md., and Leesburg, Va.; and at FEMA facilities in Denver and Atlanta.

Under the lease agreement, FEMA also will get several Cisco 3810 ATM switches, used for voice compression, for each of the locations.

FEMA plans to lease the equipment with an option to buy, Anderson said. The lease, which includes a maintenance contract, costs just less than $10,000 a month.

Initially, FEMA plans to deploy the network over a leased T-1 line, but after a test phase, it will use Sprint's full ATM service. The approach will allow for time to train employees and for FEMA to learn more about the network and its features so the agency can make good management decisions when it joins the full ATM service, Anderson said.

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