World Trade Center
Response: Information Needs were Critical
and practice are keys for improving emergency
Contact: Michael Parker (518) 437-4980
ALBANY, N.Y. (June 17, 2004) -- Educating policy
makers about the benefits and limitations of information
technology and developing a comprehensive plan
for business continuity are just two of the recommendations
supported by the University at Albany's Center
for Technology in Government in a report titled
"Information, Technology, and Coordination:
Lessons from the World Trade Center Response."
"Our study looked at this immense response
and recovery process through the lenses of information,
technology, and the people and organizations who
used them to address a massive urban emergency,"
said Sharon Dawes, CTG director and lead research
investigator. "What we learned can help all
organizations improve the way they use information
for day-to-day operations and business continuity
In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks,
government decision-makers were faced with unprecedented
problems, and responded with creative, often unorthodox,
solutions. Available evidence indicates that information
technology helped them cope with and respond to
the multiple crises and ongoing recovery demands
that resulted from the attack, while areas for
future action emerged from the study that can
enhance the prospects for long-term learning and
improvement in the structures and functions of
government, businesses, and civic organizations.
A number of preliminary lessons and areas for
further study have been identified:
- Communications networks that were thought
to be redundant were actually running on the
same infrastructure and constituted a crucial
point of failure. However, other technologies
including the Internet, geographic information
systems, remote sensing, and mobile and wireless
communications proved to be powerful tools for
- Information quality, availability, and integration
were all essential but problematic. These problems
persist and present ongoing barriers to effective
- Competence, experience, and long-term relationships
in all agencies paid off. In several instances,
the main difference between routine operations
and crisis operations was the scale of the effort.
In many cases, years of interaction and trust
building laid the foundation for quick action
in the absence of formal procedures.
- Preparation for "Y2K" was invaluable
for both government and business. For many organizations,
preparation for the Year 2000 date change was
the first time they had considered business
continuity and business recovery strategies.
Many of these were activated following the attack.
This research into what government agencies did
in the midst of these crises, and the role of
IT in the events, can provide valuable lessons
for improving crisis response and emergency management
and planning, as well as benefit overall government
operations in normal times.
"Looking at the response from these perspectives
sets this project apart from other research and
makes our results applicable to any size or type
of organization," said Dawes. "Developing
capacity for managing and sharing information
and increasing networks of relations across organizations
in the community can improve day-to-day operational
effectiveness as well as preparedness for any
type of emergency."
The study included interviews with individuals
who participated personally in the immediate response
and subsequent recovery. They represented departments
and agencies from New York City, New York State,
the Federal Government, and the nonprofit and
private sectors. The project team also carried
out extensive document analysis of materials associated
with the response and recovery. The project was
conducted by the CTG in partnership with Urban
Logic, Inc. with the support of the National Science
The report is available online at http://www.ctg.albany.edu/publications/reports/wtc_lessons.
for Technology in Government is an applied
research center devoted to improving government
and public services through policy, management,
and technology innovation. The center, located
at the University at Albany, works with government
to develop well-informed information strategies
that foster innovation and enhances the quality
and coordination of public services.