Improving Robustness and Resiliency in Catastrophe Response Networks


Mitchell Moss
Taub Urban Research Center
Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
T: 212.998.6677    F: 212.995.3890


American cities face an increasing number of catastrophic threats over the next 100 years. Terrorist groups are more likely to gain access to weapons of mass destruction that can be employed against urban centers. Unrestricted development in coastal and fault zones amplifies the risk of widespread destruction from hurricanes, earthquakes, and rising sea levels. Finally, an increasingly complex and inter-dependent network of urban infrastructure systems will create highly vulnerable targets where critical components interconnect. Reliable communications systems are the lifeblood of effective emergency response and disaster management. Current efforts at the federal, state, and local level are making rapid progress in addressing critical issues such as network inter-operability and public alert systems. However, cities face unique challenges in the 21st century which have not been adequately addressed by current research. This project seeks to improve our understanding of the entire range of challenges and opportunities affecting our cities as they plan for catastrophe communications. Creating robust and resilient cities requires communications infrastructure and practices not just for responding to emergencies, but providing security and economic viability before, during, and after catastrophic events.

Drawing upon experts in urban planning, telecommunications infrastructure, port management, real estate analysis, geographic information systems, and mobile communications, our efforts are organized in four key areas. These investigations of urban catastrophe communications are designed to provide knowledge for policymakers and professionals in major cities across the nation.

Research Topics:

Business Continuity, Telecommunications and Urban Decentralization. Following the collapse of the Twin Towers, the future viability of urban centers was called into question. Three years later, there is conflicting evidence about the effect of changing insurance requirements insurance, corporate risk management strategies, and business continuity technologies are contributing to urban decentralization. This study will analyze recent trends in corporate leasing activity and the underlying technologies being used to integrate more dispersed organizations.

Port Security and Emergency Communications. Ports are the most vulnerable urban infrastructures, and securing them is a major national priority. Often overlooked, however, is the crucial role ports play in the shipment of disaster relief materials and long-term economic recovery from a catastrophe event. This area of research will focus on port emergency communications strategies, as well as systems that support rapid re-opening of damaged or infiltrated ports. We will draw upon international examples in Europe and Asia including Rotterdam, Tokyo/Yokohama, and Singapore.

Direct Citizen-Government Communications. Recent initiatives such as New York City’s Emergency Alert System have greatly improved government’s ability to communicate essential information to the media during an emergency. This area of research will investigate the way city governments can leverage these systems to communicate directly with citizens through the use of Internet and mobile communications technologies.

The Role of Social Networks in Emergency Response. Social networks play an important role in both formal and informal emergency response and disaster relief. Formal response organizations often fall back on informal social networks to develop trust and ad-hoc inter-organizational communications during emergencies. In the neighborhoods and communities affected by catastrophe, many of the needs of affected persons are met through their own social networks rather than formal responders. This research will investigate the way in which teachers, building superintendents, and other key agents of neighborhood-level social networking can be utilized to improve emergency communications.