Teamwork pays off for government and industry
The search engine also allows greater functionality in the social networking portion of the application. “Annotations and comments about service providers are captured and searchable,” adds Alonso. “This gives power to the veterans to locate information that others have added to the site. It offers a tremendous community.” In addition, Alonso points out that although much of the data on the Warrior Gateway site is structured, MarkLogic’s database scales well to handle searches among millions of documents because of the way the indexing system is devised.
In case of emergency
Emergency preparedness and response is another area where cooperation between the government and the private sector can be very productive, leveraging the resources of each sector to benefit both. “After 9/11 and Katrina, there was strong interest in engaging the private sector as a partner in disaster preparation and recovery,” says Steve Luis, project manager for the Business Continuity Information Network (BCIN). “However, there was less discussion about developing the tools to make this happen.”
BCIN (pronounced “beacon”) is an extensive research project managed by Florida International University (FIU) and funded by the National Science Foundation and IBM. It is designed to help the business community prepare and recover from disasters by linking government agencies and private companies to provide critical information before, during and after disasters.
“We saw a natural fit for our expertise because our faculty studies disaster dynamics and the impact on communities, and we have large programs in IT and science,” Luis explains. “Our location in south Florida provides us with firsthand experience on the impact of natural disasters, and we can work with the community to provide the right tools for information sharing.”
Although much of the research that will ultimately be incorporated into BCIN is ongoing, the project team has developed a platform that is operational. It integrates information from groups that are represented in the emergency operation center (EOC), which is activated during disasters. “Our EOC has representatives from over 70 organizations all in one location,” says Paul Vitro, emergency management coordinator for Miami-Dade County (miamidade.gov). “BCIN is the tool that supports information exchange with the business community.”
Many different information sources feed into BCIN. Some data comes directly from other systems, and some is processed to make it appropriate for public distribution. BCIN is now desktop-based, but will eventually deliver information on a variety of mobile platforms. “In most disaster scenarios, people are displaced,” Luis says, “and you have to be able to access information from mobile platforms.” Over time, the functionality will be extended and more partners will be added.
Getting businesses up and running quickly after a disaster is critical to the long-term economic viability of a community. “Communication networks, food and building supplies, medical care, energy and financial services are based in the private sector,” Luis emphasizes. “The government generally takes care of roads and security, but in order to facilitate the best response, all these other components need to be included as part of the recovery team.”
Better decision making
When a reliable stream of information about the condition of various areas is available, businesses can make better decisions about whether to call employees back to work, order supplies for repairs or take other actions in response to the disaster.
“The Department of Emergency Management in Miami-Dade County and other counties did a great job of engaging the private sector to initiate a dialog and understand its information needs,” says Luis.
FloridaFIRST is a consortium of banks focused on improving business continuity in the state, and is one of the private sector partners of BCIN. “We wanted to establish a solid working relationship with local authorities,” says Adilson Araujo, communications director for FloridaFIRST, “and help develop processes through which we could receive more actionable information during disasters.” Araujo, who is also head of IT and chief security officer at BAC Florida Bank, strongly believes in the importance of the private sector taking a proactive role in working with local government to ensure business continuity.
“Having a centralized point from which we can get information is very helpful,” Araujo says, “because it lets businesses plan appropriately.” Until BCIN was developed, businesses had to rely on the same broadcasts that keep citizens aware of local conditions, for example. Official announcements were based on press releases. “This method of communication often resulted in a delay in disseminating information,” he adds, “and did not provide the level of detail that businesses need to make operational decisions.”