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Spring Journal

Volume 32, Issue 1

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In the wake of tragic events of New York City’s World Trade Center terrorist attacks, city officials were faced with the daunting task of not only responding to the most horrific event in US history, but also to simultaneously manage these response efforts and guide New York to a quick recovery.

Information Methods Incorporated (IMI) was chosen by New York City to facilitate these efforts, under the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) leadership, across numerous agencies, vendors, and contractors. As CEO and chairman of IMI, I immediately reached out to a network of vendors to develop and implement an action plan within the next 36 hours. Each participating vendor and contractor would have a specific role or service that would be necessary for a successful delivery and recovery. Our company would provide the leadership and direction required to meet the city’s demanding timetable.

Site Selection

With the collapse of One World Trade Center, the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), located at 7 World Trade Center, caught fire and eventually collapsed – leaving the city without a centralized facility to manage its emergency operations. The OEM immediately set out to locate an interim EOC located at the Police Training Academy. This site provided immediate relief but was determined to be unsuitable as a long-term solution. Almost as soon as this location became operational, the city began a search for a site that could sustain the EOC for an extended period. Within one day of the disaster, the city also set up an additional location for families to come and file missing person reports on family and friends. This additional site, located at a former armory, was also not suitable for an extended operation. So, with the city looking for two facilities: one from which to manage and respond to emergency conditions; and a second to provide emergency assistance and relief to those devastated by these events, an obvious solution presented itself.

Sept. 11 was the day that OEM planned a simulated response to a biohazard incident. The location, which had been selected for this test, was a ship pier on the West side of Manhattan.

After consultations, OEM officials decided to capitalize on its previous planning and manage its recovery and business continuity efforts from the piers. These piers are owned and managed by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that facilitated commandeering this location. City agencies urgently convened discussions with vendors and contractors from a variety of disciplines (construction/facility management, telecommunications, computer and network operations, disaster recovery planning, etc.) to develop and implement a disaster recovery plan.

On-the-Fly Planning and Implementation

During the first few hours of this effort, working with OEM’s Deputy Director, Henry Jackson, we developed a floor plan for the piers, the new location of the Emergency Operations Command (EOC) Center. Approximately 100 different agencies and departments from local, state and federal levels would require space and representation at the EOC. In addition, OEM would need a central point to command emergency operations within the EOC. Every agency command post would require voice/data lines, PCs with network connectivity and access to servers, routers, Internet access, mobile radios, printers, fax machines, and other necessary tools. The clock was ticking – and the leadership, facilitation and cooperation that occurred within the next 36 hours among numerous groups (many with competitive business interests) became a model for on-the-fly disaster recovery and business continuity to ever occur in the city, and more than likely, the nation.

Within hours, technology service providers began offering computer and telecommunications equipment and services to assist the city in its recovery efforts. From the onset, the city was able to capitalize upon the depth of knowledge and experience of the various vendors, each with their own area of expertise. This knowledge proved to be pivotal in establishing the EOC at the pier.

As an example, the New York City ship piers were used on a regular basis for trade shows and exhibits. Our company had the advantage of not only being an information technology management firm but also having a conference and trade show division. Therefore, it was straightforward for us to use this knowledge to work with the EDC exhibit decorator for the piers to set up the floor for the new EOC. The floor of the pier is set in 20-feet by 20-feet grids which were used to layout the agency areas. This also made it easier to rearrange the layout, as OEM refined its requirements and adjacencies.

OEM also established relationships with most of the organizations required to create the infrastructure needed to quickly recreate the EOC from what once was at 7 World Trade Center. In addition, the Human Resource Administration (HRA) was able to provide around the clock technical assistance and equipment from its warehouse. The Department of Information

Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) provided their expertise in voice and data support.
Computer Horizons Corp (CHC) had developed and implemented the technology infrastructure for the original EOC. This knowledge and working relationship with OEM helped them assemble the temporary site at the police academy and immediately made all their resources available to OEM to create the site. CHC continues to manage the operation of the EOC and provide support to the Family Assistance Center on Pier 94.

Other technology companies, such as Cisco, Motorola, and IBM also played major roles. From providing equipment and expertise from all over the country to having staff work more than four days straight (from the training academy to the pier), this task could not have been accomplished. Cisco was instrumental in providing their expertise and services for network operations at both piers, while IBM was instrumental in providing business continuity consulting services to assist agency executives in implementing their Y2K operational plans. In addition, IBM also provided their disaster recovery management team (who had prior experience with the Oklahoma City bombing incident) to assist the city in tracking its recovery efforts via the web – from building inspections to voice/data restoration to water/air quality reporting.
Motorola provided mobile radios to enable the agencies to communicate with almost no lost time. Motorola’s familiarity with the city’s radio infrastructure and public safety operations played a key role in quickly assessing agency communication needs. Nortel provided phone instruments and Verizon rushed to put in high-speed lines for both voice and data.

Lessons Learned

Unfortunately, sometimes-tragic events highlight the deficiencies of organizations – from Wall Street to government – in their preparedness to continue their core business operations during emergencies. Immediately following the events of Sept. 11, information officers and CEOs of corporations and municipalities across the country began assessing the disaster recovery and business continuity preparedness of their organizations.

Traditionally, disaster recovery planning was something that many organizations “put-off” until they completed everything else they were working on - and quite frequently, the first item to be cut during tough financial conditions.

The human, financial and political risk to an organization of not planning for a disaster is far too great to even measure. The bottom line is that those who do not have a plan and a method to recover are out of business – a risk no organization should take.
It’s not just a great disaster recover plan that defines success; it’s knowing your client’s needs and being able to provide the leadership and coordination to make the plan a reality.

Thomas A. D’Auria is CEO and chairman of Information Methods Incorporated, an information technology management consulting firm and systems integrator. Beginning in 1981 with a concentration on information systems and conference management, IMI evolved into a full service management consulting business specializing in state and local governments and associations.