Trust, skills crucial to sharing information in emergencies, report states

Researchers in New York have issued a report that examines the task of coordinating a regional response to events that disrupt telecommunications networks.

The Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany produced the report earlier this month in conjunction with the New York State Department of Public Service. The department serves as the staff arm of the state’s public service commission, which regulates utilities, including telecommunications.

The report stems from a one-day CTG workshop that pulled together industry and government representatives, primarily from the metropolitan New York area. Theresa Pardo, CTG’s deputy director, said the group discussed the knowledge gap that exists among key players in telecom.

“They recognize the importance of doing something about it,” she said.

The report cited the need to address the “gap in current knowledge about the roles and responsibilities of individual organizations in subnational incidents.” The document also noted a lack of clarity regarding “who has what information at any point in time that could be brought to bear on incident response.”

Another finding was the criticality of trust and cross-boundary information sharing. The report points to government and industry collaboration as a condition for continuity of government.

Brian Tishuk, executive director of ChicagoFIRST, said his experience in working with that nonprofit association underscores the need for collaboration. ChicagoFIRST focuses on emergency management issues that affect Chicago-area financial institutions.

“The basic lesson learned is to get the relevant people together and forge a means of working on jointly beneficial solutions,” said Tishuk, who participated in the CTG workshop.

Tishuk said that objective may seem simple, but isn’t often achieved. Persistence is crucial, he said.

In one case, ChicagoFIRST sought a seat in Chicago’s emergency operations center to obtain access to reliable and current information about a crisis. The association met with the city and, after a few months, ChicagoFIRST was able to participate in the center.

Emerging concept
The notion of regional telecom incident coordination is a new concept, according to researchers and others familiar with the New York project. In 2006, the state’s Department of Public Service proposed the idea of a regional coordination center. That proposal came in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s notice of proposed rulemaking regarding Hurricane Katrina’s effect on communications networks.

“The idea was that in key regions of the nation…you would have a regional coordination center [that] might be affiliated with a national coordination center,” said Dennis Taratus, chief of network reliability for the department’s Office of Telecommunications.

In comments submitted to FCC, the department said its vision is for the regional coordination centers to be affiliated with the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications (NCC). NCC was established in 1984 to coordinate the restoration of communications services for national security and emergency preparedness, according to a 2006 report from the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.

That report also provides an impetus for the creation of regional coordination centers. “One challenge during major disaster response efforts has been effective coordination at the regional level,” the report states.

Taratus, who participated in the CTG workshop, said the next step in exploring regional coordination is to raise awareness of the CTG report and engage more stakeholders in the discussion.

“It’s great that the dialog is happening,” he said. “But there is a lot more work that needs to be done.”

About the Author

John Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.

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