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by Darby Patterson; Government Technology Magazine

8:00 a.m. January 15, 2003 PDT

New York's IT leaders are harnessing knowledge gained after Sept. 11 to better use technology in the future.

[Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the e11th hour editorial staff.]

NEW YORK CITY has its eyes on the future. The focus is on renewal, economic development, education, open government and, particularly under the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the use of technology in building this future.

Underlying the optimism and the challenge, however, is the awareness that Sept. 11 catapulted the city into the unenviable position of using its resources in new, untested ways. New York came away with some hard-learned, sometimes costly lessons. Over the past year, the nation looked to New York for perspective on many things. And the city's people have responded. State and local government CIOs watch with interest as the city's IT officials consider how the past 12 months will impact the future.

Like other jurisdictions, but under different pressures, New York City has grappled with how to respond to new threats that demand more investment, even in a period of diminished financial resources. It has considered how government can make homeland security systems relevant to everyday operations and what technologies are essential in government today.

A Healthy City

As a hub of international travel and commerce, New York City faces the potential for introduction and spread of exotic diseases. Consequently, the city's Health Department has a history of readiness, according to Ron Bergmann, deputy commissioner of New York's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and former associate commissioner of business and technology strategy for the Department of Health (DOH).

"Because it is New York and anything can be here within 36 hours from anywhere around the world, the epidemiological staff and its capacity has been [highly] regarded," he said.

When 9-11 erupted, the Centers for Disease Control bolstered New York's defense by sending more than 20 epidemiologists to work around the clock at area hospitals. "This was indicative of the potential for a bio-terrorist attack because at that point there was a lot of uncertainty," Bergmann said. "Of course, that level of resource could not be sustained."

What emerged from 9-11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks was a new system for collecting and analyzing data from a wide variety of sources. More than 30 hospitals now collect data from emergency room visits, including information about patients' original complaints and ZIP codes, which aren't attached to any personal information about the patients. The data is sent to the DOH, which then uses algorithms and modeling tools to look for trends and clusters that could indicate a public-health threat.

Bergmann said this kind of "syndromic surveillance" is unusual because it monitors common diseases, such as the flu, and also serves as a harbinger of something far more insidious. "Syndromic surveillance is an early warning system so the health department can see what might be happening," he said. "Bio-terrorism happens slowly, not all at once. The idea is to see the pattern."

Another important tool for the city's department was its ongoing program to monitor the spread of the West Nile Virus, which made news in 1999. The city employed GIS technology to map sites where specimens of infected crows and pockets of breeding mosquitoes were found. "West Nile prepared us, in a way, to respond to the aftermath of 9-11," Bergmann observed, "Y2K and West Nile were very helpful because we had in place systems and protocols."

Bergmann said the department already had developed a culture of information sharing and cooperation.

"I came to the Department of Health in 1996 and at that point every division had their own network and application development going on," he said. "During the time I was there, that began to centralize so the entire agency was thought of as an enterprise. Now I think that initiatives like 311 and CRM are the beginning of thinking of the entire city as the enterprise."

In response to the immediate needs of 9-11, the DOH created a wireless network and began registering and screening people within hours of the tragedy. When the first World Trade Center tower fell and the department had to relocate to another facility, officials quickly had their network up and running. Bergmann says this speaks volumes about the work the department had already done.

"It's a matter of preparation in that you cannot just ratchet up after some catastrophe without having the pieces in place."

The Health Department was initially called upon to assist with worker safety at ground zero and to monitor environmental issues. Soon, city health officials found themselves playing a lead role in managing the threat of anthrax.

Bergmann said the department has begun to collect data from pharmacies to spot unusual drug purchasing patterns that might indicate a public-health concern. "They take disconnected data sets and pull them together and create meaning from them," he explained.

The city also is planning a health application that could have national implications. "We are working on a health alert network that's a nationwide effort that connects people around particular issues during a crisis," Bergmann said. The electronic network would allow health-care providers to file reports in one central database and offer widespread access to public-health laboratories.

Operating in an Emergency

For months after the attack on New York City, Larry Knafo, DoITT's deputy commissioner of strategic technology development, continued to operate in emergency mode. Knafo was among the crew of city officials who set up the city's emergency family center on Pier 94, just days after the attack. He arrived at this unenviable task from his role in contingency planning for Y2K. Today, he still thinks in the context of emergency planning.

"Now we are really getting back to business, operating like a city should," he said. "We need to make sure all the agencies can do their jobs, so we have to do things like repair networks and replace workstations." Knafo added that hundreds of the PCs from buildings near the World Trade Center were discarded because they had been covered in dust from the wreckage.

At the same time, the city must deal with drastic budget cuts.

"New York sort of mirrors Wall Street," Knafo said. "And we have always had to watch our spending even in good times, but now we really have to. We need to look at how we can increase our efficiency."

Some events, such as the destruction of a key building like the emergency operations center, don't easily lend themselves to emergency planning. But, many of the repercussions can be minimized, and Knafo says the city learned some valuable lessons about some of its procedures.

"I think the key things that happened revolved around procurement," he said. "How do you get things when you need them? In the event of an emergency, it is 80 percent hardware and 20 percent services. We needed hardware immediately. We had emergency procedures in New York that most people weren't familiar with. And, being used at that scale, it really caused issues for us."

In the wake of the disaster, materials were brought in from across the United States. Companies were anxious to sell or donate equipment, but the procurement process proved an impediment rather than a facilitator. Finally, decisions were made outside of standing policies, to be sorted out at a later date.

"What we are looking at now is how we can better inventory for receiving and distributing equipment," Knafo said. "There will be a big emphasis on that, and on the technology and implementation side ? buying for the enterprise, not just for a single entity."

The enterprise strategy includes sharing resources, such as DoITT's network fiber. Smaller agencies are being invited to use the department's proxy server to access the Internet. "That rolls over, too, into the e-government world," Knafo said. "We are not just building one-off applications but enterprise applications that we can replicate throughout government."

Knafo said an application developed prior to 9-11 for notification about storms and weather emergencies proved its flexibility during response and recovery efforts. The GIS application showed available evacuation routes, emergency centers and other information.

"On Sept. 11, we used that application over and over again," he said. "We took a hurricane application and turned it into a World Trade Center application." Later, that same application was used to monitor the anthrax threat.

This concept of sharing extends to the city's new intranet, which is organized into "communities of interest" that include multiple agencies. The first communities were for procurement and information technology. The sites contain policies, security information, manuals and a general forum where professionals can share their expertise and ask for advice. Knafo said the sites had hosted hundreds of users even before they had been announced.

"You can start to see that some of the things we are doing can be leveraged across the agencies. They can share the benefits of the technology infrastructure," Kanfo said. "I think e-gov as we have known it is going through a transformation in the city."

An Irreplaceable Tool

New York City had already been using geographic information systems in quiet and effective ways before Sept. 11. Then, in the aftermath and recovery efforts, GIS proved its worth as an irreplaceable emergency-management tool. Maps of ground zero provided pictures that helped rescue crews, firefighters, workers removing debris and city officials making critical decisions.

But, the GIS applications that made a profound difference in the city's ability to respond to the challenges of 9-11 were products of innovation under fire.

"We worked with a number of vendors as well as staff from many city agencies and also state and federal agencies," said Alan Leidner, DoITT's assistant commissioner of geographic information systems. "It was a total collaborative effort involving everyone we knew."

Information that had not previously been shared across agencies helped to create the graphic representations that supported rescue and clean-up efforts.

"I think we are moving forward because there is a recognition that GIS has a particular utility during an emergency," Leidner said. The mapping systems are able to marry past, current and remote sensing data on the fly, and apply it to a specific situation. "[Using GIS in an emergency] demonstrated that we could bring all kinds of things together in ways no one had imagined," he said.

In one instance, a base map was overlaid with images of the destruction and with thermal data from a remote sensor.

Using this combined picture, firefighters assessed the affects of their efforts and discovered that the hosing pattern they were using was pushing underground fires into new locations rather than extinguishing them. Consequently, they adopted new firefighting tactics that were effective.

Leidner said the technology also monitored potential explosions. "There was a real concern that additional fuel tanks would blow and the Freon in the World Trade Center might blow," he said. "It was a way of dealing with the evolution of a dangerous situation."

But, there was one area that fast action couldn't remedy. Addresses or building identifiers on the ground often were not available on the GIS maps. Consequently, it was challenging to direct emergency workers to specific sites on a map. Leidner said there should be identifiers linked to features on maps.

"That's what we didn't have in the emergency, and it came back and stung us," he said. "With unique identifiers we will be able to respond more quickly and accurately." Accessing data across agency lines was another source of frustration for the city's GIS teams. "The silo idea and having information isolated and incompatible has caused problems in the past," Leidner said.

He called GIS data indistinguishable from city data and said it should be fully leveraged across agency lines. In fact, Leidner believes GIS is so fundamental he has coined a phrase to underscore its importance. "I call GIS the DNA of MIS," he said.

Darby Patterson is editor in chief of overnment Technology Magazine.

Article copyright © Darby Patterson; Government Technology Magazine; all rights reserved
related resources

| r e a d i n g |

Facing the Unexpected: Disaster Preparedness and Response in the United States; Kathleen J. Tierney, Michael K. Lindell, Ronald W. Perry; ISBN: 0309069998

Disaster Response: GIS for Public Safety; Gary Amdahl; ISBN: 1879102889

A Framework for Survival: Health, Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance in Conflicts and Disasters;Kevin M. Cahill, Kofi A. Annan; ISBN: 0415922356

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Psychological Assessment of Adult Posttraumatic States (Psychotherapy Practitioner Resource Book); John Briere; ISBN: 1557984034

Environmental Disaster and the Archaeology of Human Response (Anthropological Papers (Maxwell Museum of Anthropology), No. 7,); Garth Bawden, Richard Reycraft; ISBN: 0912535148

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The EMS Incident Management System: Operations for Mass Casualty and High Impact Incidents; Hank T. Christen, Paul M. Maniscalco; ISBN: 0893039721

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Understanding Terrorism and Managing the Consequences; Paul M. Maniscalco, Hank T. Christen; ISBN: 0130212296

Business Handbook on Terrorism, Security and Survival: A Proactive Guide for Personal Security in Today's Business Environment; Gerry S. Thomas; ISBN: 0964057018

Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States (Natural Hazards and Disasters); Dennis S. Mileti; ISBN: 0309063604

Disasters and Democracy: The Politics of Extreme Natural Events; Rutherford H. Platt, Miriam Gradie Anderson, Alexandra D. Dawson, Beth O'Donnell, David Scherf; ISBN: 1559636963

Normal Accidents; Charles Perrow; ISBN: 0691004129

Hazardous Waste Operations & Emergency Response Compliance Manual (38-M); Dolly Miller; ISBN: 0934674868

Transportation Disaster Response Handbook; Jay Levinson, Hayim Granot; ISBN: 0124454860

Chemical and Biological Terrorism: Research and Development to Improve Civilian Medical Response; National Research Council; ISBN: 0309061954

21st Century Bioterrorism and Germ Weapons—U.S. Army Field Manual for the Treatment of Biological Warfare Agent Casualties (Anthrax, Smallpox, Plague, Viral Fevers, Toxins, Delivery Methods, Detection, Symptoms, Treatment, Equipment); Department of Defense; ISBN: 1931828105

Jane's Chem-Bio Handbook; Frederick R. Sidell; ISBN: 0710619235

First Responder Chem-Bio Handbook; Ben N. Venzke; ISBN: 096654370X

Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response; The Sphere Project; ISBN: 0855984627

Shared Risk: Complex Systems in Seismic Response; Louise K. Comfort; ISBN: 0080432115

Hard Choices; Jonathan Moore; ISBN: 0847690318

Humanitarian Crises: The Medical and Public Health Response; Jennifer Leaning, Susan M. Briggs, Lincoln C. Chen; ISBN: 0674155157

| u s e n e tg r o u p s |












| w e b s i t e s |

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Rapid Response Information System (FEMA)

Mobile Emergency Response Support (FEMA)

American Red Cross

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Association of Contingency Planners

Disaster Recovery Information Exchange

Natural Hazards Center

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
EM-DAT: OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters)

The World Disasters Report (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)

Billion Dollar U.S. Weather Disasters, 1980-2001 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Extreme Weather Sourcebook 2001: Economic and Other Societal Impacts Related to Hurricanes, Floods, Tornadoes, Lightning, and Other U.S. Weather Phenomena (University of Colorado Boulder; NCAR, NOAA, USWRP, NSF, AMF)

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Contingency Planning & Management Magazine

Disaster Recovery Journal

Rothstein Associates

(*see our resource directory for add'l resources)

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