The CityNext Team recently caught up with James McConnell, the Assistant Commissioner for Strategic Data at the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), to ask a few questions about the agency’s new big data solution. Here’s what he had to say.
Q. Please tell us what the New York City Office of Emergency Management does.
For almost 20 years, we have been serving the citizens of New York City in emergency response and recovery, addressing everything from severe weather to disease outbreak, utility disruption, and terrorist attacks. We plan for emergencies, educate the public about preparedness, collect and disseminate emergency information to our partnering agencies, and work to ensure that all responding agencies have the resources they need to complete their tasks.
Q. What challenges was the Office of Emergency Management facing in terms of data management?
We have a lot of data feeds from disparate sources, and manually aggregating all the information we needed was a slow process. We were often updating situational awareness through emails and phone calls. To best serve the public, we needed real-time awareness and highly reliable data management. We needed to be able to retrieve that data as fast as possible, in a format that’s useable for decision makers, so we committed to developing a robust solution that could further our mission.
Q. Can you tell us about the solution you built?
We access a lot of data from partnering agencies through the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics. They suggested teaming up with the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Engineering Group (C&E) to build a proof of concept to explore how a well-designed situational awareness application could help us in our work. They started by deploying the CityNext Big Data Solution Accelerator, hosted on Microsoft Azure. Then C&E, focusing on the specific needs of OEM, worked with us to design the elements of such a dashboard. The dashboard integrates data feeds from various information systems and gives us exactly what we need—all of our data from different sources in one place, in near real time.
We tested the situational awareness dashboard with our 24/7 Watch Command, where the staff monitors various information sources and has a variety of types of data feeds. The dashboard allows us to better manage this data, with features such as searching keywords from news reports and email services that indicate where to direct our attention, or by allowing us to see incident locations on a map powered by Bing.
Q. What benefits have you experienced so far by using the CityNext Big Data Solution Accelerator?
The application allows us to automate the generation of Watch Command’s daily morning situation report. It pulls together screen shots and various data feeds into a comprehensive report. This saves us hours of staff time since we no longer have to cut and paste the information from multiple sources. Other features of the application make it easier to use status data and track the life of a recovery effort. We can drill down and analyze more data in a way that’s more organized and actionable. With live cameras and a map view on the dashboard, Watch Command can precisely locate a field incident and quickly mobilize the nearest available OEM incident coordinator to respond and begin coordinating the sharing of information and securing required resources with the on-scene incident commander.
The time that we are saving collecting the required information can now be spent strategizing with decision makers in OEM and in our partnering agencies and developing courses of action. We are now pursuing a second phase of the project, and we are excited to see how we can further customize the solution for our needs in the future.