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E-GOV SUPPLEMENT - CALM IN A CRISIS

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E-government is not just a tool to help citizens interact with their councils, it can play a vital role in keeping ...
E-government is not just a tool to help citizens interact with their councils, it can play a vital role in keeping them alive if the worst ever happened, says Paul Mansell

The issue of security and risk management is an increasing concern for both central and local government today. Role models such as former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his leadership through the tragedy of 11 September, provide a good example of the enormity of the task in mobilising emergency services and government departments. Given the increased threat facing the world today it is timely for chief executives to know how harnessing e-government technologies can help them meet their responsibilities to safeguard the public.

The dawn of the e-government age has a vital part to play in addressing the two key factors essential to the success of risk preparedness - co-ordination and integration. However, e-government has also given the public access to information which heightens the likelihood of critical information falling into the wrong hands.

Councils, like every other layer of government, therefore face a quandary - how can e-government facilitate successful emergency planning while at the same time protecting against breaches of security and access to sensitive data?

The answer is thorough planning. Planning which addresses the five key stages required to ensure an effective emergency capability: assessment, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Importantly, chief executives now need to become personally involved in this emergency planning process, drawing from expert e-government security guidance to ensure council services effectively use e-government's opportunities. Failure to do so increases our vulnerability, and by implication the likelihood of attack.

To start the plan, internal and external communication channels need to be assessed. Improving communication between departments, emergency

services and the citizen using IT is the overall goal - simply put, getting the right infor mation to the right person at the right time.

Assessing where communications failures occur is a good first step to ensure response times and effective working when disaster strikes. This assessment will help develop the emergency plan, which must focus on the response to an incident, not the incident itself.

A successful emergency plan which is fully integrated across councils and co-ordinates well with key departments and services should be capable of:

saving lives, preventing an escalation of the disaster, relieving suffering, safeguarding the environment, protecting property, and facilitating the investigation and enquiry process. The plan should also, in the longer-term, be able to restore normality quickly.

All of these capabilities can only result from successful management and co-ordination of key emergency groups including the police, the coastguard, the council itself, the military, central government, and volunteers. As well as the NHS - consisting of the health authority, hospitals, A&E departments, ambulance services and the coroner; and the Environment Agency.

How can such disparate groups be networked effectively? The answer is with e-government technologies. E-government is the most efficient means - in terms of cost, timeliness, and security - of ensuring these departments are fully joined-up and able to respond to an emergency. A good example of how

e-government can be applied to public security and emergency planning can be found in a recent project by the US federal Transportation Security Administration who devised an e-government platform in partnership with Deloitte Consulting.

The TSA was created from a Congressional Act following the events of 11 September and is responsible for the security of the US transportation systems, including the federalisation of airport security across the country. It was realised that the explosion of data and information creates an operating 'fog' that poses huge challenges to transport leaders' decision making. It was concluded that the ability to deploy an integrated information system within and between communities was of strategic, operational and tactical importance.

Deloitte Consulting led the effort to create an e-government operating platform as the digital hub and information gateway for the TSA to encompass everything from the creation and storage of information, to the way it is organised, presented and accessed, to the infrastructure used for its support and delivery.

The web-based platform consists of CRM capabilities, acting as the foundation of TSA's operational infrastructure through the marrying of technology, business processes and security operations to deliver solutions to targeted constituents. The platform includes internet, intranet and extranet environments to align security field operations with home-office operations to provide complete integration. As well as the typical benefits of time and cost efficiency, the e-government platform also carries an alert notification system which allows users in the TSA command centre to issue mission-critical alerts to internal and external constituents over a variety of channels, including voice,

e-mail and wireless.

The creation of the e-government platform for the TSA is a good example of how e-government can provide the vital communications link needed in emergency planning. The use of advanced technologies such as voice, e-mail and wireless applications will be an important part of emergency planning for the future.

It is self-evident that the level of security threats has increased, but equally, our ability to draw from ground-breaking IT developments to realise the full benefits of e-government has provided a real opportunity to meet the challenge. Given the responsibilities of the local authority chief executive to account for public safety and respond to the public's demand for information, the implementation of e-government enables a tangible solution that not only supports open government, but also uses the same technology to increase our individu al and collective security.

Paul Mansell

Head of homeland security UK, Deloitte Consulting

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