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THE CUTTING EDGE: FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY

Olympics Will Test E Team's Mettle

Internet: Canoga Park firm will manage a Web-based information system for crisis control at 2002 Winter Games.

December 11, 2000|KAREN KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the 2002 Winter Olympics get underway in Salt Lake City, they will test the speed, agility and strength of one team from Southern California.

They're not hockey players or speed skaters but a group of software developers, systems analysts and other refugees from the region's once-dominant aerospace and defense industries who have built an Internet-based emergency management system for the Winter Olympics.

The engineers from E Team Inc. in Canoga Park will draw on their experience building military networks to battle obstacles ranging from traffic jams to possible terrorist attacks.

"We need to manage information ranging from day-to-day normal stuff, like a car accident snarling some traffic on a major artery, to more extreme circumstances where you might have a bomb or a major hazardous materials spill," said Chris Kramer, spokesman for the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command. "That's a tremendous amount of information we need to be able to watch and track and monitor."

Managing the emergency response system for the Olympic Games is the biggest contract yet for E Team, a 2-year-old company that also handled the Democratic National Convention last summer and allowed Los Angeles city officials to monitor problems related to the Y2K computer glitch last New Year's Eve. Other customers include the cities of San Francisco and Philadelphia, the state of Louisiana, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Japanese auto maker Toyota.

The company's software allows a variety of participants to plug into a single network of emergency management information. With the help of the Internet, E Team creates what co-founder Jim O'Donough calls "a great white board in the sky" where police and fire departments, government agencies, hospitals, utilities and other approved users can share information about a critical event.

E Team creates a private computer network that anyone can access with a Web browser and a password. That means rescue workers and other service providers can plug in from the field as long as their laptops or hand-held personal digital assistants have a wireless Internet connection. Once logged in, they can update their colleagues about the situation on the ground and carry out instructions from a central command.

E Team's core technology was originally developed in 1995 to build the first wireless Internet-based tactical network for the U.S. military. Then it was blended with mapping software from geographic information systems specialist ESRI and a document-sharing and messaging system from IBM's Lotus Development unit.

E Team lets users create, update and read reports about emergencies and other events. The reports can be sorted according to incident type, status, date, agency involvement and other characteristics.

Colorful icons provide users with a quick summary of a situation. A green fist in downtown L.A., for example, would indicate a civil disturbance that authorities have under control.

As technology improves, hand-held Pocket PCs powered by Microsoft's Windows CE will make it possible to ferry additional information to the white board in the sky, said E Team Chief Executive Matt Walton. The Olympic system will allow users to plug attachments for digital cameras, voice recorders and global positioning system receivers into their PDAs, he said.

"You can point a camera at a device and ship the picture back and say, 'Do I cut the blue wire or the red wire?' " Walton said.

E Team's creators, who developed the technology at a Westlake Village defense contractor called Illusion, quickly realized that their military network could have civilian uses, especially in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

"After all, battles are just man-made disasters," said Walton, who at the time was Illusion's vice president of strategy.

Illusion executives showed their network to people including Ellis Stanley, the general manager of the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Department. They pressed their case that firefighters, law enforcement officers and public works employees would benefit from such a network after a catastrophic event like the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Los Angeles became the company's first marquee customer. Stanley said the city has spent about $190,000 on E Team so far.

In the fall of 1998, Illusion spun off E Team as an independent company. Since then, E Team has invested $11.5 million to develop its software.

The privately held company, which has 35 employees, wouldn't disclose specific financial information, but Walton said E Team brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue a month. The company is losing money but expects to become profitable next year, he said.

Through the Olympic contract, E Team has been paid nearly $300,000 so far and the agreement probably will be worth $500,000 by the time the competition ends, said Jay Creutz, program manager for Science Applications International Corp., the San Diego company that is managing the technology to ensure public safety at the Games.

The 2002 Winter Olympics will be the biggest test yet of the E Team software.

Olympic organizers expect 1.2 million people to descend on Utah during the 2 1/2-week event, boosting the population of the state by more than 50%.

Those visitors will be spread among 14 venues sprinkled throughout an area about 75 miles long and 40 miles wide. To handle potential emergencies, as many as 900 users from nearly 50 state and local agencies will need to be plugged into a common network.

It's a system Stanley said he wishes he had when he ran the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

"When I first got into this business 25 years ago, you didn't have this much information, and you could shoot from the hip," he said. "Now we have information overload, so we need ways of managing that information so that we can make good decisions."

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Times staff writer Karen Kaplan can be reached at karen.kaplan@latimes.com.

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