by Todd Datz

A Local Plan to Fight Worldwide Terror

Jul 15, 20033 mins
IT Strategy

In the post-9/11 frenzy of federal activity to implement homeland security measures and integrate the activities of national law enforcement, intelligence and border control authorities, one fact may be lost on the average citizen: Terrorist incidents are local.

That fact has not been lost on officials in Norfolk, Va., who recognize that their city of 234,000 residents, located in southeastern Virginia some 200 miles from Washington, D.C., could be a future target. Norfolk boasts the largest naval base in the world and the second-largest shipping-container terminal on the east coast. It is also a major cruise ship port and has a number of tunnels, bridges and causeways.

And since Hap Cluff arrived in Norfolk in January 2002 as the city’s IT director, he’s led an effort to develop a comprehensive homeland security plan for Norfolk, with technology as a core element. Cluff hopes that the plan, known as The Norfolk Model, will serve as a blueprint for other municipalities.

The main goal of the plan is to bring the city’s emergency management processes into the digital age. To do that, Cluff needs to bridge the disparate data silos that currently exist among city agencies, public health institutions and nonprofits such as the Red Cross. Currently, Cluff says, “There’s a tremendous lack of integration.”

Integration Efforts

One avenue he’s exploring is partnerships with cutting-edge technology vendors (see “Rapid Response Points,” this page). Another integration effort underway is the deployment of a product called e-Work from Metastorm that is designed to help the city automate the 3,000 or so paper forms it uses, and to document the thousands of business processes that now reside in workers’ heads. In August, the city will go live with a new $6 million computer-aided dispatch system that will allow police and fire personnel to communicate wirelessly using laptops.

These projects represent progress. But integrating city agencies with all the other organizations’ systems could be a nightmare, Gartner analyst French Caldwell points out in this hypothetical observation: “If you have the Salvation Army keeping data in an Excel spreadsheet and the Navy using an Oracle database and Norfolk using something in between, how do you share that data in a real-time crisis?” There are also other issues that need to be ironed out—such as data security, data access and how Norfolk might integrate with neighboring jurisdictions, state governments and the federal government.

There’s also the question of funding. Cluff figures the plan would cost about $30 million, and the city is in a long line of municipalities that have been begging Washington for federal help that has been slow to come. Cluff is pursuing technologies that can be used in day-to-day operations—not just for emergency management. But he freely admits, “I don’t have any money. My goal is that, between partnerships and the feds, we can build this model in such a way that it pays for itself,” adding that if Norfolk can show ROI for its technologies, then other cities will be able to justify the costs.

Ron Holifield, communications director at The Innovation Groups, a nonprofit association of municipalities that provides networking and training services, praises Cluff’s planning. “It is more far-reaching than the typical city is ever going to attain. But if 100 percent isn’t realistic, even if a city moves 20 percent, it will make huge progress,” he says.