Crisis plan, tech helped NYC

Crisis planning and the use of technology helped government restore services and aid emergency workers

In recounting the horrors of Sept. 11, two top New York City officials detailed how crisis planning and the use of technology helped the government restore services and aid emergency workers.

Avi Duvdevani, acting commissioner for the city's information technology department, and Joseph Lhota, deputy mayor of operations, said that because the city had developed a comprehensive emergency plan, city personnel were able to respond quickly and effectively, despite the destruction of the command center in the World Trade Center, and recover from communications problems they encountered early on.

The New York City officials spoke during this week's annual conference of the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council (NECCC), an alliance of several national associations representing state government officials.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Duvdevani said his department's main priority was to figure out how to restore government services at City Hall and the Municipal Building, a large seat of government for other elected officials. Both buildings were evacuated. That meant providing computer and other technology services to government employees.

While Verizon was working to restore voice communications, Duvdevani said that the city's Web site (www.nyc.gov) became a resource for disseminating information to the public and media. Volume of traffic was 100 times greater than normal, he said.

Lhota, who gave a nearly minute-by-minute account of his actions Sept. 11, said the only communications devices that worked were walkie-talkies and Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry wireless messaging devices.

He said that when the $13 million state-of-the-art command center, housed in building seven of the World Trade Center and designed to withstand natural disasters and bombs, was destroyed, the city had to scramble to create a makeshift center. He said the city didn't have a redundant center because officials didn't think they would need one.

He said that help from about 100 companies that donated computers and other supplies proved valuable in the recovery efforts. He also said that geographic information system mapping technology helped firefighters locate an underground fire in the area and 3-D imaging helped evaluate the structural integrity of buildings.

Both officials credited planning for the Year 2000 problem in helping the city deal with the aftermath of the attacks. In preparing for the Year 2000 date change, city officials went through agency critical and operational issues.

Basil Nikas, an NECCC board member who moderated the sessions, said few governments have business continuity plans in place in case of an attack, and corporations aren't even taking it seriously.

NECCC likely will develop workgroups in the coming year on homeland security, business continuity and even one on a national identification card, said Nikas, who also is chief executive officer of iNetPurchasing Inc.

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