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Turning to Digital Government in a Crisis: Coordinating Government's Response to the World Trade Center Attacks

Summary

Publications & Results

Partners

Funding Sources

Scope of Work

Contact Information

Summary
On the morning of September 11, 2001, two hijacked jetliners flew into the upper floors of World Trade Towers in New York. Thousands died; tens of thousands were evacuated from Lower Manhattan. When the towers collapsed, the 16-acre heart of New York's financial district lay in complete ruin.

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 demand that resulted from 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. Equally important, the lessons learned from how government responded to this emergency may benefit overall government operations in normal times.

Publications & Results
Reports and Working Papers (2)
Lessons from the World Trade Center Response Cover
Learning from Crisis: Lessons from the World Trade Center Response. A Research Symposium Panel Transcript Summary
Sun, 01 Aug 2004 >Download PDF
The experience of September 11th was not an experience that government sustained by itself. Rather, it was an experience that crossed the public, private and nonprofit sectors and holds lessons for organizations of all kinds and sizes. In June 2004, the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany, SUNY, put together a panel that represented these different perspectives.

Information, Technology, and Coordination: Lessons from the World Trade Center Response
Tue, 01 Jun 2004 >Download PDF
Research into what organizations did in the midst of the World Trade Center crises and response provides valuable lessons for improving crisis response and emergency management and planning. Equally important, the lessons reveal that interdependencies of human, organizational, and technological resources may benefit overall government operations in normal times.

Publications

Gil-Garcia, J.R., Harrison, T., Juraga, D., Pardo, T., & Thompson, F. (Nov, 2004).The Structuring of GIS Technologies: The World Trade Center Crisis as a Change Episode. Poster accepted for presentation at the American Society For Information Science And Technology, Providence RI.

Lessons Learned

While the data collected in this exploratory study is necessarily limited, and our analysis is incomplete, we have identified a number of preliminary lessons and areas for further study in a larger future investigation. These preliminary lessons cover technology, data, preparedness, interorganizational relations, social capital considerations, and policy issues. A sample:

Technology lessons

Data lessons

Preparedness lessons

Social capital and relationship lessons

Information policy questions

In the aftermath, crucial information policy questions presented themselves. For example:

Partners

Academic Partners

Nonprofits and Foundations

Center for Technology in Government


Funding Sources
This project is funded, in part, through a $100,931 grant from the National Science Foundation under its Small Grants for Exploratory Research Program.

Original Scope of Work
On the morning of September 11, 2001, two hijacked jetliners flew into the upper floors of World Trade Towers in New York. Thousands died; tens of thousands were evacuated from Lower Manhattan. When the towers collapsed, the 16-acre heart of New York's financial district lay in complete ruin. A quarantine of the City below 14th Street kept thousands more from their homes, jobs, and businesses.

Available evidence about the government responses to the attacks indicates that information technology played a critically important role. Effective use of a variety of information technologies helped government agencies to better cope with and respond to the multiple crises, and ongoing recovery demands, resulting from the attack. At the same time, the severity of these crises was exacerbated by the damage to critical communications and computing infrastructure as well as the absence, loss, or inaccessibility of needed information resources.

Government decision-makers were faced with unprecedented problems, and responded with creative, often unorthodox, solutions. The mixture of people, organizations, institutions, and technology changed through the lifecycle of the response: the challenges of the immediate response (search and rescue, public safety) differed from those in succeeding weeks (debris removal, establishing temporary office spaces, mortuary and bereavement services, public health, and hardening of municipal and other infrastructure) and differed again from future response activities (economic redevelopment of the region, fair compensation, and incentives).

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. Equally important, the preparedness and interdependencies that emergency response warrants put in place human, organizational, and technological resources that may well benefit overall government operations in normal times.

This exploratory study is a partnership between the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany/SUNY and Urban Logic, Inc., a New York City nonprofit organization, which was intimately involved in the response. The study covers five key research themes:


The research strategy began by contacting many of those who worked at Pier 92, where New York City's Emergency Operations Center was re-established after its formal EOC was destroyed by the collapse of the World Trade Towers. By starting with the "nerve center" of the response, rescue, and recovery effort, we have been able to follow and partially document the network of relationships, information flows, and actions that represent a range of governmental responsibilities. A cascading technique allowed us to identify additional informants inside and outside government who played (and continue to play) integral roles in the recovery effort.

Contact Information
Center for Technology in Government
University at Albany, SUNY
187 Wolf Road, Suite 301
Albany, NY 12205
(518) 442-3892 (phone)
(518) 442-3886 (fax)
Fiona Thompson
Project Manager
(518) 442-3892