Posted: May 25th, 2022
New York State firefighting history is a microcosm of early and modern disaster preparedness.
Definition of disaster in the historic era and modern era.
Early historical facts.
The need for uninterrupted communication.
Response to needs.
Advent of the Internet.
New needs, new responses.
Worthiness of Disaster Recovery and Contingency Plans for keeping communications flowing smoothly.
The overall importance of communication.
The firefighting department of New York City, generally considered to be the first of organized efforts to combat community disasters, can be seen as a microcosm of the country, reflecting the impact that information technology has had on disaster recovery and contingency plans. While the technological growth and development might have been gradual during the initial stages, growth has now matured into a state of extraordinary sophistication.
Because disasters – whether confined to a single individual or felt by an entire community – are by definition chaotic and confusing, the timely transmittal of pertinent information is of key importance. Three types of disaster are generally recognized: natural disasters such as floods, fires and earthquakes, human-caused disasters, and political disasters including riots. Constant review and improvement of not only the collection of input, but also the response following a crisis have been important methods of monitoring disasters and improving response measures and recovery efforts. With the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, a new and different area of concern has come about in the face of disasters.
Beginning with the colonization of America, as soon as people began utilizing the land’s timber resources to build their lodging structures, the problem of dealing with resulting fires was a real one that demanded attention. Among the earliest of recorded disasters due to fire was one that occurred in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608. Because the people were completely without even the simplest forms of communications and technology, the emergency could not be adequately address. By the time the fire was finally quelled, it had destroyed most of the Colonists’ provisions as well as their lodging, thus leaving them without food or shelter during the harsh winter months.
Forty years later, Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of what was once called New Amsterdam, and is now known as New York, established the first organized firefighting team in America. The team in 1648 consisted of four men and their buckets. Their method of relaying information was limited to wooden rattles that were sounded as alarms, and shouts to rouse the citizens (PBS). While their methods of dealing with disaster would appear to be extremely antiquated by today’s standards, the people were, nevertheless, addressing the issue that remains key to the success of human life and community life: communication.
The four firefighters appointed by Stuyvesant were charged with various responsibilities in order to help thwart potential disasters, including inspecting chimneys, levying fines against citizens who violated the area’s Fire Ordinance rules, and patrolling the area between the streets that were growing increasingly congested. Following the fire prevention ideas of Boston’s selectmen, (“Noe man shall build a chimney with wood nor cover his house with thatch”) they also enforced a New Amsterdam ban on wooden chimneys and thatched roofs (Hamilton). These were all seen as precautionary methods that might help avert disaster.
In 1657, a log cabin fire prompted New Amsterdam’s Dutch colonists to respond by increasing the size of the firefighting team, and also to increase nighttime vigilance (Sullivan). Still without general alarms, and relying upon open fires as the solitary means of heating, cooking and illuminating in the wooden homes, the need for night watchmen was recognized and the challenge met. Eight night watchmen were appointed
Firehouse). All able bodied citizens were expected to help in the event of a fire, and anyone who neglected to answer a fire alarm was fined (Angleton).
With the colony growing quickly and becoming even more congested, and with the congestion creating more potential fire hazards, the General Assembly met in 1735 and established the volunteer “Fire Department of the City of New York.” The city’s first firehouse was built in 1736 on Broad Street in front of City Hall. In 1737, The General Assembly created the New York Volunteer Fire Department, appointing thirty-five men who would remain on call in exchange for receiving an exemption from jury and military duty. The new force of 35 men was in charge of defending 1200 homes and nearly 9000 people from fire.
In 1827, the first horse-driven fire engine was used to fight a large fire, and also for the first time, messages were relayed between burroughs and cities, and additional engines were called in from Brooklyn to help put out the blaze. By 1835, New York had grown to a population of over 250,000 inhabitants, and serving them were 1,500 firemen and increasingly effective tools for responding to disaster.
By the early 1900s, the city had grown into a modern metropolis, and the congestion continued, rising upward as story upon story were designed and then built by modern architectural and engineering teams. Although the firefighters did have more sophisticated technologies, they also had brand new dilemmas to face in order to protect the city’s inhabitants. The new perils included more than skyscrapers and poor fire exit systems, however. On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Bomber whose pilot was apparently blinded by foggy conditions, crashed into the 78th and 79th floor of the Empire State Building. The impact caused three fires within the building and killed fourteen people.
By 1948, a fire alarm was transmitted by wire every nine minutes thus making wire maintenance critical, because an actual fire occurred every twelve minutes. In the 1980s the firefighting teams amassed more capabilities by using SCUBA to conduct underwater search and rescue missions, and the firefighters also began responding to calls to Emergency Medical Service.
During the 1990s, a new era of information technology radically changed the course of all businesses, as well as of personal life. In today’s technically advanced business climate, organizational leaders have learned that they must plan for unpredictable and often costly interruptions from a variety of potential disasters.
The disasters that were once limited to fires, and floods now include disruption of regular business due to power and technical failure as a result of terrorist activity. Business managers have had to quickly recognize and understand new areas of potentially adverse circumstances through which their operations must function. Following a disaster, critical systems in information must be recoverable and work environments must be available so that the organization can be restored back to “business as usual” as quickly as possible (Schlumberger).
On September 11, 2001, terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into Building 1, the World Trade Center’s north tower, and sixteen minutes later crashed United Airlines Flight 175’s into the south tower. Among the 3,000 people killed were 343 firefighters who sacrificed their lives while responding to alarms and attempting to rescue others from the buildings. This was not only the most devastating terrorist disaster to occur in New York, but also to occur in America (PBS).
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have transformed information technology, leading to profound and permanent changes. While community security was first safeguarded because of it’s structural reliance upon timber products, America’s information infrastructure is now viewed as a source of great strength and considerable vulnerability. Modern information technology is essential for keeping the nation prosperous as well as more secure.
Many people suffered tremendous business losses and setbacks as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks on both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In an effort to help the people and businesses resume normal operations, many vendors offered disaster recovery, consulting services, and other forms of assistance that were essentially unheard of prior to the 1990s advent of the computerized communications era.
Immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many companies’ IT disaster-recovery plans were put to the test, as was the Internet itself. In the wake of the tragedy, companies are now assessing the performance of their fault-tolerant systems.
In addition to causing great personal harm and a tragic loss of life, one of the other apparent objects behind the terrorist attacks was to paralyze and disrupt American life as well as create disaster in the business world. According to IBM senior engineer, Casimer DeCusatis, companies such as IBM drew upon their past experiences with business services that were interrupted during the bombings in Oklahoma City several years ago and the 1993 World Trade Center attack in order to make recovery from the 2001 disaster move as quickly as possible. Recovery now, however, did not only include rebuilding of lives and physical structures. In the new era, it also included a need to recover valuable computerized data, and to keep critical communications flowing without interruption.
Over 1200 IBM customers were located in the World Trade Center or within a two-block radius of the center. During the first days of the crisis, many of the customers contacted the company seeking help, and disaster recovery teams managed or resolved twenty-seven dire emergency situations. IBM’s Business Continuity and Recovery Services center, located about 40 miles north of New York City, was placed on a red alert status, and many employees responded to the alert by working continuous shifts around the clock, and sleeping on-site. Managers worked the loading dock, logging new equipment shipments, and during the period of time when air travel was suspended, employees drove a replacement server in from Chicago.
The calls for help peaked at a rate of approximately forty calls per hour in the first two days after the attack, and IBM deployed equipment that ranged from large enterprise servers to thousands of laptops and workstations. “In addition, it provided thousands of square feet of data center capacity, in some cases relocating customer’s operations to IBM facilities, and re-created data processing environments that were destroyed” (DeCusatis).
Because the Internet was designed to deal with partial infrastructure failures by utilizing packet-based, asynchronous messaging in order to allow traffic to move in a variety of paths to reach its destination, a total disruption of communications was avoided. Although many of the messages being relayed during that period of time had to travel through long and circuitous routes, sometimes even being routed outside the U.S., most messages eventually were delivered.
Several metropolitan area optical service providers also announced that their networks were intact and operating normally following the attacks. Those still functioning included FiberNet Telecom Group, Globix Corporation, and Global Crossing. Reported instances of hacking and other security breaches after the attacks were fairly low, affecting only about 1% of these companies. Because communications were not completely disrupted, the efforts to maintain a semblance of stability in global financial markets also continued successfully.
Among the companies that came forward with newly needed assistance following the 2001 disaster were Relational Architects International (RAI), which offered the use of its software products in order to facilitate the recovery of mainframe computer operations. RAI offered their products until February 2003 without a license fee to distressed companies – those whose data centers required relocating as a direct consequence of the September 11, 2001 catastrophes. Numerous other companies offered recovery help including Computer Associates International, which offered to assist New York businesses restore data and computing services (IBM).
From economic growth to exports and employment, computers and other information technologies have played an increasingly vital role in the U.S. economy. Although it comprises only approximately 8% of the U.S. economy as a whole, the IT sector accounted for nearly 30% of real growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 1994 to 2000. IT is also the nation’s single largest exporting sector, accounting for over 29% of all U.S. exports, and employs millions of Americans at wages well above the national average (IT).
During the 1990s, U.S. businesses poured more than $2 trillion into computers, software and other technological products. This phenomenon was a major factor in the dramatic acceleration of U.S. productivity growth in recent years. It has become increasingly important for businesses and governmental agencies to consider their Information Technology projects as investments in their future operations. With the emphasis on outcome-oriented performance measures, the contribution of IT to achieving business goals and objectives has been increasingly emphasized during the past decade, and recognized as a critical part of the overall operating functions (Security). In an environment of cutting costs and downsizing, IT projects have clearly communicated their worthiness (GSA).
The advent of Information Technology has also affected the operations of data storehouses such as libraries, making possible new features such as digital libraries, metadata, authorization and authentication, electronic journals and electronic publishing, distributed systems and networks, computer security and intellectual property rights, technical standards, geographic information systems, desktop applications, online catalogs and bibliographic systems, optical information systems, software engineering, universal access to technology, futuristic forecasting, library consortia, vendor relations, and technology and the arts (IT and Libraries).
In today’s distributed computing environments, organizations are more vulnerable than ever to the possibility of technical difficulties impeding communications. Any disaster, from floods and fires to Internet viruses and espionage, can affect the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of critical business resources and leave an organization virtually inoperative. Disaster recovery has taken on a new sense of urgency in recent years due to the expanding role of computers in the organization and the increasing occurrence of various types of critical disaster recovery issues and concerns regarding the security and protection of local area networks (LANs), the mainframe, and client/server (C/S) systems.
As the computing environment becomes more complex, and as computing becomes more distributed, it is now understood that IS managers must take preventive, precautionary, and preparatory measures to avoid communication failures following any type of disaster. New methods of conducting risk assessment become necessary as the technology continues to advance (Technology). While the need to protect data and have a contingency plan is apparent for businesses whose retail operations depend upon computers, the need is actually a universal one. It is imperative for any organization that depends upon the computer as a means of communication to protect the ability to communicate (Butler).
From the first four men carrying leather buckets and rattles in New York City, to the modern times, the growth of human technology has been enormous and ongoing. The backbone of their successful operation of recovery and contingency remains unchanged, however. The foundation of all intelligent and well-planned disaster preparedness and recovery still rests in the ability for us to communicate with one another.
Angleton Fire Department. History. Undated. 10/14/02 http://www.angletonfiredepartment.net/history_&_interesting_facts.htm
Butler, Janet. Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery. Undated. 10/14/02 http://hallinternet.com/wired_culture/533.shtml
DeCusatis, Casimer. Information Technology and Disaster Recovery at the World Trade Center. 2002. 10/14/02 http://www.ddj.com/documents/s=865/ddj0165s/
Firehouse Online. The American Fire Service. September, 1998. 10/14/02 http://www.firehouse.com/magazine/american/colonial.html
GSA. Capital Planning. 05/06/02. 10/14/02 http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/content/offerings_content.jsp?contentOID=22841&contentType=1004&PMKE=1
Hamilton, Insurance Brokers. History. Oct. 14, 2002. 10/14/2002 http://www.ibah.org/articles/articles33.html
IBM. Resources for Companies Affected by September 11 Attacks. Undated. 10/14/02 http://www.db2mag.com/911resources/
IT. IT and the Economy. 2002. 10/14/02 http://www.itic.org/sections/Economy.html
IT And Libraries. June 7, 2002. 10/14/02
Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. Firefighting Memorabilia. March, 2002. 10/14/02 http://www.journalofantiques.com/Mar02/featuremar02.htm
PBS. FDNY – A History. 2002. 10/14/02 http://www.pbs.org/wnet/heroes/history4.html
Schlumberger. Providing Contingency Plans for Business Continuity. 2002. 10/14/02
http://www.slb.com/ir/aboutus/sema — ‘contingency.html>
Security. White Papers. Telecom. Undated. 10/14/02 http://satellite.about.com/cnl/1/15.htm#section2_linktitle1
Sullivan, Dr. James. History of New York State. June 1, 2002. 10/14/02 http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ny/state/his/bk2/ch2/pt5.html
Technology Models. VCCS Disaster Prevention and Recovery Program. March, 1998. 10/14/02 http://www.so.cc.va.us/its/models/secpl.htm
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