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Q&A: Dr. Ivan Walks on the need for info-sharing

By Dan Verton
November 6, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Long before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax assault through the nation's mail system, a carefully planned bioterrorism exercise at Andrews Air Force Base highlighted the need for better information-sharing among all levels of government. One key finding from that exercise, sponsored in June 2001 by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies, was that federal, state and local governments lack an integrated system of sharing information throughout the medical and public health sectors.
Last month, Los Angeles-based E-Team Inc., a developer of collaboration software for emergency management, hired Dr. Ivan Walks, the former chief health officer for Washington, to help the company develop a comprehensive IT-based biodefense program for government and the private sector. Walks directed the response to last year's anthrax attacks, and in an interview with Computerworld, he talked about the challenges of sharing information during terrorist incidents and crises.

Dr. Ivan Walks of E-Team Inc.
Dr. Ivan Walks of E-Team Inc.
Q: What is your assessment of federal, state and local information-sharing preparedness more than a year after Sept. 11?
When you look at how people are going to build systems that allow them to connect at a level where data can be shared, you quickly arrive at the question of who's going to pay for it. Although the federal government has taken a great step forward by announcing more than $1 billion for public health infrastructure, a lot of that money is being spent to take care of budget shortfalls that exist. Very tough choices are being made about shoring up existing infrastructure vs. development of new infrastructure. And information-sharing tends to fall in the new infrastructure category.
When you look at information-sharing and the practical use of technology, there also needs to be agreement on what the data set looks like. Now we're back to the cultural divide between the first responders and the other folks that need to be involved, such as public health, property managers and the private sector.
Q: Is there a role for the private sector?
Yes. There is tremendous innovation going on with respect to health technology. One of the things that E-Team has done is to bring together an e-XML Consortium to promulgate new standards for data-sharing. If you talk to people who do emergency management for a living, they will tell you that by the time you are finished with the first 24 hours of any major disaster, you need to look outside of your own agency for 80% to 90% of their resources and information. The private sector clearly plays a major role, andas such, needs to be a technology partner with the public sector.
Q: What about the average company that isn't a technology provider or vendor? How can it enhance its ability to stay in business during and immediately after a terrorist incident that threatens their continuity of operations?
This is probably one of the most important practical issues that needs to be addressed. Companies need to move from business continuity planning to become part of the regional planning that is going on. How can your company be a community resource so that you can be a part of that planning and part of the recovery process? For example, delivery companies that are familiar with local neighborhoods are a great resource to have. All companies have something to bring to a comprehensive regional plan.

Read more about Disaster Recovery in Computerworld's Disaster Recovery Topic Center.

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