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Australasian And Urban Regions Information Systems

3 December 2001 Hon Trevor Mallard Speech Notes


Australasian And Urban Regions Information Systems Association

I am pleased to be able to open this special presentation.

The events that took place on September 11 shocked the world. In New Zealand we watched from afar as American emergency services swung into action to deal with the horrific crisis and its aftermath.

It seemed unthinkable that such devastation could occur in such a way and on such a massive scale. Yet it happened.

One of government’s roles is to prepare for such ‘unthinkable’ events.

In New Zealand such an extraordinary event could range from a major earthquake centred on a city, to an infestation of an exotic pest or disease such as foot and mouth.

Crisis plans have been developed to manage such events, which we hope will never be put into action.

In order to be effective, these crisis plans must be in place, and tested, hopefully long before any events occur.

In a crisis, accurate and fast information is key to an effective response.

Emergency services need to quickly access information about the location of people, property, and utilities. This information may provide the difference between life and death.

Such facts as the positions of buildings, utilities, telecommunication lines, roads and other infrastructure are all key pieces of data that need to be fitted together. This enables the rescue teams to respond effectively in an emergency and will ensure the community and media are well informed.

Often this information is held by different groups, ranging from local authorities and government departments to businesses, and in different electronic formats. It may sometimes be only found on paper.

The development of new technologies can allow this critical information to be shared between agencies and accessed by the emergency services in the event of a disaster.

The linking of such information creates a spatial data infrastructure. In New Zealand we are making good progress towards developing such an infrastructure.

Agencies have worked together to develop common topographic and cadastral (legal roads) digital mapping policies, programmes and standards.

Already there are results. LINZ, Police, Fire, Statistics NZ and the e-Government Unit have just completed a major project that will have a significant impact on the emergency response of the Police and Fire services.

Their team of geo-spatial experts has developed a new standard to interlink and integrate separate databases of addresses, place names, roads and streets. The standard does not depend on a particular computer system, has an open format and is based on international best practice. It is called the Emergency Services and Administrations (ESA) Standard.

I am pleased to announce today that both the Police and Fire Service have adopted the ESA standard.

This will mean a more consistent and approach to identifying streets and place names by the Police and Fire Service

The new standard will improve the quality of information used to identify the location of emergency incidents. It also allows emergency callers to more easily describe their location.

For example, informal names will be part of the system. An emergency caller in Wellington is more likely to say ‘James Smith Corner’ than the corner of Cuba and Manners Streets. Under this system – both will be recognised.

The next steps for the ESA standard are for all the relevant organisations to consider adopting the ESA standard in relation to their own databases containing road, address and place names.

The benefits that can be gained through implementing the ESA standard show the value of data sharing between government and other agencies and the importance of such standardisation initiatives.

The significance of such initiatives, while often seen as back room and technical to the public, cannot be overstated.

Common geo-spatial data standards between different agencies is the foundation for the delivery of e-services, as basic information about location underlies 80 percent of all government information.

The new ESA standard will therefore contribute directly to the Government’s e-Government strategy. E-government is about using modern technology to give better access to government information and services. Emergency systems are a core government responsibility.

The New York emergency services were stretched to their limit in coping with the attacks on the World Trade Centre. The New York Geospatial Information Standard Utility played a key role in the crisis.

Ex-Wellingtonian James Hall now lives in New York. He is a Project Manager and Senior Analyst based at the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and is a key person in the New York GIS Utility Implementation project.

He saw the unthinkable happen in his own backyard and was able to help his city deal with the crisis as a member of the GIS team who assisted in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.

James and his team were responsible for the delivery of more than 1000 information products in the first 10 days after the event.

We are very fortunate to have James here today to share his first hand experience of having to deliver information under pressure in the worst of all ‘worst case’ crisis scenarios.

A positive outcome from today’s presentation will be the opportunity to learn from James’s experiences and improve our own capabilities to prepare for the unthinkable.

I would like to thank the Australasian Urban Regional Information Systems Association (AURISA) and Land Information New Zealand, the sponsor, for arranging James’s visit to New Zealand. Thank you.

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