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Fighting El Niño online

While the world braces for the onslaught of El Niño, many federal agencies and other groups are using the Net to help people get prepared.

While the world braces for the onslaught of storms related to El Niño, a host of federal agencies and other organizations are using the Internet to help people get ready for what is expected to be a disastrous rainy season.

The bulk of El Niño information is provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's El Niño Loss Reduction Center. Here Netizens can find out everything from general meteorological information about El Niño to tips on obtaining federal flood insurance.

FEMA this month made its Internet broadcast debut in response to El Niño, providing live coverage of its October 14 El Niño Community Preparedness Summit in Santa Monica, California. Roughly 2,000 people tuned in to the proceedings over the Internet, according to FEMA spokesman Phil Cogan.

"What we've demonstrated in this site is that there really are no limits to what the Internet can do for areas of specialized interest," said Cogan, citing FEMA site hits from 65 countries around the world.

The El Niño section of the site received 57,000 page views last week, out of 1.1 million for the entire FEMA site.

In addition to posting information on the Web site, FEMA uses Internet mailing list groups to distribute situation reports while disasters are under way. This service could prove invaluable during El Niño storm-related power outages that prevent people from getting information by radio or television--provided they can run their computers on battery power.

Other El Niño sites include an experimental forecast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's information page, and the U.S. Climate Prediction Center's advisory.