Conference Review: National League of Cities—Congress of Cities and Exposition focuses on Homeland Security

By Bill White

Atlanta, GA - More than 6000 officials and 180 vendors from cities in the US and abroad, converged on Atlanta for the National League of Cities (NLC) annual Congress, held December 4 - 8 at the Georgia World Congress Center.While the conference theme was "Investing in Cities," the events of September 11th clearly dominated the agenda, including keynote presentations by Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer (NLC President) and USDOT Secretary Norman Mineta.In comments to the opening general assembly, Mayor Archer introduced resolutions that ask the President and Congress to recognize the frontline role of city government in homeland security through emergency supplemental and long-term financial support of municipalities.In a speech to the second general session, Secretary Mineta assured the assembly that the newly formed Transportation Security Administration would not result in yet another Washington bureaucracy, but would listen to, and work closely with, local law enforcement officials.

Not known as a tech-heavy event, the traditional GIS and mapping community was sparsely represented, but the heightened awareness of technology's role in homeland security resulted in more visibility for GIS than it might have otherwise.In a presentation dedicated to technology leadership in local government, President of Public Technology, Inc., Costis Toregas, noted that GIS had joined email, the web, citizen relationship management software, and wireless communications in the list of technologies that belong on the "first floor" of every local government.Toregas described GIS as a "people friendly, unifying thread of the other technologies."

In the session focusing on terrorism preparedness, Special Forces Major General James Guest (Ret.), of SY Technology, urged civic leaders to recognize the importance of, and make the necessary investment in, new technologies that enhance their community's ability to assess vulnerability and mitigate the risks associated with terrorist attack.According to Major General Guest, access to GIS and mapping technology cuts both ways."What really makes this technology attractive to terrorists is the availability, and ease with which they can access spatial information on the World Wide Web using a credit card.Finding targets, identifying key terrain features, and analyzing ingress and egress routes become relatively simple tasks."

Just six days before the scheduled deployment of an incident management system on servers at NYC's Office of Emergency Management, that office ceased to exist.It was located on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center 7 which collapsed shortly after the north and south towers came down.In a session on technology in public safety, presenters from IBM, E Team, and ESRI described the process by which an emergency deployment of the system was made available through ASP services on the evening of September 11, and how the need and desire for maps and geographic analysis became immediately apparent.Troy Armstrong, from E Team, noted that the range of maps and mapping services requested during the NYC disaster, served as an invaluable benchmark as the group prepares for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The next major National League of Cities event, is the Congressional City Conference, scheduled for March 8 - 12, 2002, in Washington, D.C.

Published Thursday, December 20th, 2001

Written by Bill White

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