Breakthrough year for public/private collaboration in emergencies?

12 February 2014 | Charles Jennings, CEO, Swan Island Networks

As first responders like to point out, all emergencies are local. State and city governments are the first line of local defense in emergencies. Timely, well-informed decision-making by state and city leaders is critical.

Making real-time emergency decisions is not a trivial responsibility, as the State of Georgia and City of Atlanta discovered recently during the Great Southern Ice Storm of 2014.  Their experience ought to be a huge wake-up call for state and local governments everywhere. The state was blindsided by a particular kind of emergency for which they were ill prepared. Every region has such emergency “soft spots,” and these are often different from city to city. For example, Minneapolis is well prepared for a huge snowstorm, but is it ready to manage a seven-day power outage?

No state or local government is perfectly prepared for “black swan” events like an ice storm in the South, or any number of other 21st Century threats. This is especially true if their dominant emergency response model does not take advantage of modern, public networking systems to build much deeper and more effective public/private collaboration.

The logic of such collaboration is compelling: threats are growing, resources are tight, and we’re all in this together, after all. Both government agencies and private-sector companies have a lot to contribute—to each other and to our collective security. Why not focus on working together?

2014 could be a tipping point for public/private collaboration. Cyber security information, especially in the form of threat profiles, is already being shared by public agencies and private companies. A new public/private initiative in New York City, led by the Port Authority of New York, is an all-hazards information-sharing project, involving both local government agencies and many big brand-name companies. Government agencies and jurisdictions of all kinds, at least in the United States, seem to have recently become more serious about exchanging sensitive information with local organizations in new ways, especially with respect to public safety and emergency response. We still have a long way to go.

One area that could help boost public/private collaboration is public agencies embracing the cloud.

By “cloud,” I do not just mean virtualized, remote compute environments, but the whole notion of agile, scalable, federated computing. Cloud technology and cloud culture are now fueling aggressive growth in any number of technology sectors. Why should the cloud not also drive innovation and growth in tough, mission-critical areas such as public/private collaborative for faster, more effective decision-making in emergencies?

A great example of what is needed is the Microsoft CityNext initiative, which is designed (in part) to help major cities around the world do “new with less” out of the cloud. Swan Island Networks is a part of this initiative as a Microsoft CityNext partner. This is a major worldwide effort by one of the leading IT vendors to help cities gain access to flexible new services, which could make the management of public/private collaboration much easier—and more affordable.

The beauty of initiatives like Microsoft CityNext is that they provide a safe, easy on-ramp to the cloud for governments that wish to keep pace with rapidly changing technology. Cloud systems are built to accommodate shared services, federated identity management, data interoperability, and many other functions that can add great value to public/private collaboration efforts. In the wake of the Great Southern Ice Storm and a long list of other local emergencies, perhaps this is the year that the public sector will embrace cloud technology and culture, and will get public/private collaboration moving in a big way. I certainly hope so.

Learn more about TIES for Microsoft CityNext.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Or e-mail us at ongovernment@microsoft.com.

Charles Jennings
CEO, Swan Island Networks

Microsoft on Government Blog

About the Author

Charles Jennings | CEO, Swan Island Networks

Charles Jennings is a co-founder of TRUSTe, the Internet’s leading privacy assurance service, and is currently CEO of Swan Island Networks, which provides its TIES® security intelligence service to over 200 large enterprises. Read more