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As the city prepares for more frequent emergencies, a new emphasis on tech

New York City’s emergencies are becoming more frequent and more complex than they were in the past, says the woman in charge of handling them — and it’s not going to get any easier. Her solution? Prioritizing technology.

Disasters are multiplying because of “climate change, social and economic inequity, aging infrastructure, reliance on technology, cyber threats and domestic terrorism,” said Deanne Criswell, commissioner of the city’s Emergency Management department, at the ISC security conference on Nov. 20. Criswell, appointed to lead the agency in June by Mayor Bill de Blasio, laid out her plans to use technology to help first responders make decisions when all hell breaks loose.

“When you’re dealing with a novel threat or an emerging threat, there is no checklist,” she said. “You have to figure out how to do things and problem solve on the fly. You have to get comfortable with risk and making decisions without perfect information.”

Criswell’s vision is to make Emergency Management, headquartered in Downtown Brooklyn, “the hub for data sharing, trend analysis and historical data during emergencies,” she said. While NYPD, FDNY and other agencies each have their own pieces of information during an emergency, a common platform will help them gain the insight to make better decisions, she said.

The biggest challenge during the first few days after a major incident, “where it is truly chaotic,” is trying to get a good understanding of what’s happening, Criswell said. “The role of Emergency Management is to bring all relevant information together, and to have shared situational understanding.”

One stumbling block has been the lack of trust in sharing data between agencies, she said. “We need agency data sets to be shared in a distinct platform designed for multi-agency use.”

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