Local Authorities Risk Management by Intranet

Georges Y. KERVERN <gyk@tactic.fr>
Sorbonne, Paris University

Roger W. CAVES <rcaves@mail.sdsu.edu>
San Diego State University

Robert BARR <r.barr@man.ac.uk>
University of Manchester
United Kingdom


Local authorities have started using Internet technologies for risk management.

In the U.K., the ALARM association of local authorities' risk managers already has more than 500 active members. Internet technologies for local authorities include Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Geographic, demographic, and accident statistics are progressively included in mapping technologies. Mapping software is enjoying fast development in connection with Internet/Web technologies. Crisis/emergency management communications networks have to be designed in order to remain reliable under very catastrophic conditions such as earthquakes, cyclones, floods, forest fires, etc. This is a challenge for IT infrastructures that are exposed to severe disruptions.

Distributed Decisions Support Systems (DDSS) are the tools that are developed for emergency preparedness. A significant reduction in frequency of injuries and fatalities can reasonably be expected from the combination of Web technologies with GIS and DDSS. The state of the art of these systems in Europe and North America will be described.

Keywords: intranet, landscape, urbanism, catastrophes, injury control, risk, accident, sustainable growths, safe communities, smart communities, GIS, decision support systems, emergency preparedness, emergency


1. Summary of former presentation: "Smart and safe communities"

INET '99 was an opportunity to present a report on the state of the art of the development of intranets in territorial communities: local areas, districts, cities, andregions.

The association Telecities, acting at the European level with the cooperation of 150 cities of different sizes, has contributed to this review. (Ref: "3j/3j_1.htm", "Smart and Safe Communities" in the CD-ROM proceedings of INET '99)

This review shows that significant achievements are monitored by permanent working groups of Telecities, mainly:

Up to now, nevertheless, insufficient priority has been given to the prevention of fatalities and injuries. This is true in Europe and in North America.

A review of the state of the art in the United States has shown the growing impact of Internet technologies. Transformation of the landscape, i.e., physical environment and of political and government processes, has been forecast. A comparative analysis of experiences in Singapore as a city-state and regions like Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and Joint-Venture Silicon Valley shows trends in collaboration crossing different functional sectors -- government, business, academia, nonprofit organizations and different jurisdictions within a given geographical region.

The safe communities concept has been at the center of a multi-year multi-national program of the World Health Organization (WHO), where a program on injury control has been developed. The Karolinska Institutet (http://www.ki.se/phs/wcc-csp), located in Sweden near Stockholm, is the main actor on the safe communities concept. The Karolinska Institutet monitors the European Safe Community Network: ESCON.

The development of cindynics (Ref: "Latest advances in Cindynics," see bibliography), the science of danger as an application of the systemic/holistic approach proposed by Nobel Prize winner Herbert A. Simon, opens the perspective of a complete reformulation of risk management of complex systems (see on the Web http://www.cindynics.org). Decision support systems (DSS), have been designed using research in cindynics by the Technopolis Sophia Antipolis in France (Ref: System DEDICS, 4th Framework Program of the European Union).

The presentation delivered during INET '99 in San Jose proposed using the latest developments of intranets and the latest advances in cindynics to create a collective consciousness allowing the permanent monitoring of perils and hazards of the day-to-day life by local authorities.

2. GIS: the geographical information system concept

A Geographical Information System (GIS) is defined as a computer system that can store, retrieve, analyze and display spatial data.

2.1. GIS dimensions

Spatial data is unusual compared to the more common data sets used in local government in that it is multi-dimensional. Spatial data has at least two dimensions to record locations (e.g., latitude, longitude or east, north or x, y) This implies a more sophisticated indexing mechanism than is necessary for uni-dimensional data such as alphabetical or numerical lists.  But for many risk-related applications, up to two more dimensions are required.

The third spatial dimension (e.g., altitude or height or z) is usually handled in GIS separately from the two basic dimensions. This is due to the fact that most GIS data is derived from two-dimensional source maps that hold relatively little information on the third dimension. As a result, the storage and processing overhead of holding a third coordinate for every data point is not justified.

The third dimension is also used for different purposes. On a topographical map, it is equivalent to the first two dimensions and is the simple spatial measure of height. However, it may also be used to represent many other variables, such as the intensity of a risk. For example, an urban pollution map may represent the intensity of pollution risk as a risk "surface" in the third dimension.

2.2. GIS components

GIS have three essential system components:

2.2.1. Mapping component

A mapping system is the primary visual part of the user interface. In most current GIS systems, the data that defines the map is held separately from other data that describes the attributes of objects depicted on the map. Because of the need to attach data, a map in a GIS has to be defined much more fully than for map reproduction in a CAD system. Objects on the map that will have data attached to them need to be structured explicitly as points, lines or areas.

2.2.2. Data component

The second component is the database. This holds an index of the spatial objects depicted on the structured map and attributes of those objects. The relationship between the map and the database in a GIS is two-way. Objects selected on the map are usually highlighted in some way and a query is generated to retrieve data related to those objects. Alternatively, a text query can be generated directly or indirectly, usually in some variant of SQL (Structured Query Language), possibly with additional spatial operators. The result of the query is returned by highlighting the objects on the map that satisfy the query.

2.2.3. Analysis component

The third element of a GIS is a spatial analysis subsystem. Such a system can take data from the mapping system and carry out an analysis. This generates new map objects; for example, a series of point values can be converted into a contour map. Alternatively, the result of the analysis may update the database with new attributes for existing objects.

3. DDSS: the Distributed Decision Support System concept

A DDSS is designed to integrate and allow active cooperation of the actors listed in the cindynic situation.

These actors are using four types of components:

4. A new concept: the integrated platform joining DDSS to GIS

The main proposal of the present paper is to choose the GIS concept as the tool for creating an integrated platform allowing cooperation between the DDSS used by the different emergency call centers. The DDSS must be designed with a direct online access to GIS. At the prevention level, the GIS/DDSS system will be designed to operate as a tool of the collective consciousness of the citizens.

A priority goal has to be fixed in the strategic plan of the local authority for cutting the rate of injuries/fatalities by instituting the holistic/systemic approach to risk management. This approach is now used by many advanced industrial companies with impressive results.

5. State of the art in GIS/DDSS/smart communities in North America

5.1. Citizens' demand for services

U.S. citizens today are demanding more and more services from their respective governments. They want current and useful information that will enable them to become more productive and knowledgeable citizens. In fact, the practice of democracy demands that all of the public have access to government information and services. Citizens need to be able to find answers to questions concerning their job, travels, education, entertainment, safety, health, security, and privacy.

5.2. The federal offer for services to citizens

All levels of government are currently providing information and services to the public. Local governments routinely provide various types of information to their residents. State governments perform the same function, and can also provide financial inducements or incentives for local governments to employ various forms of information technology to disseminate goods and services. The federal government also offers a number of programs that provide funding for information technology programs ranging from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Agriculture. For example, the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues and administers a grants program to support the development of the NII.

One major funding opportunity available to communities throughout the United States is the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP). Created in 1994, this program has awarded over $100 million in federal matching grants that demonstrate practical applications of new telecommunications and information technologies that serve the public interest.


Among the projects that have received TIIAP funding include:

5.3. The smart community concept

The "smart community" concept has emerged from the constant state of change brought about by information technology. (Castells, 1989, 1996; Caves and Walshok, 1997, 1999; Doheny-Farina, 1996; Graham and Marvin, 1996; Moss, 1998; Negroponte, 1995; Tapscott, 1996)

5.3.1 Smart Community definition

The 1997 Smart Communities Guidebook, published by the International Center for Communications at San Diego State University, defines a smart community as:

A geographical area ranging in size from a neighborhood to a multi-county region whose residents, organizations, and governing institutions are using information technology to transform their region in significant ways.

Cooperation among government, industry, educators, and the citizenry, instead of individual groups acting in isolation, is preferred. The technological enhancements undertaken as part of this effort should result in fundamental, rather than incremental, change.

5.3.2. Smart community components

There is "no one size fits all" model for a smart community. Programs must be customized or tailored to an individual community's needs, abilities, and resources. However, there are several elements common to all smart communities. These elements are:

5.3.3 Best of smart communities

Communities embracing various information technologies for disseminating information and services to residents can be found throughout the United States. It is not possible to supply an exhaustive picture of such a diverse environment; so, we will pick some typical examples among the more interesting experiments. Davis Community

The Davis Community Network (DCN), initiated in the early 1990s, is a nonprofit community-based project in Davis, California, that has developed a two-pronged approach to promote local business on the Internet and to use its community network to involve more citizens in the local government process. The DCN vision statement, adopted 16 January 1996, has selected explicit priority goals for 1995-96 in the areas of democracy, work, education, access, and cost. San Carlos, California

The City of San Carlos, California, is one of the most technologically enlightened municipalities in the country. Its official web site (http://ci.san-carlos.ca.us/) can serve as a model for other municipalities. Indiana

The City of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, provide an excellent web site called "www.IndyGov.org" that illustrates how the Internet can be used to disseminate a wealth of information to constituents.

5.3.4. GIS/DDSS: state of the art in the U.S.A.

Several examples can illustrate how GIS is being used in the United States. The Orange County, California, Board of Supervisors has employed a GIS prepared by Psomas in Costa Mesa, California (Henry, 1999). This specific GIS, based on the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI) ArcInfo and ArcView GIS software, allows different airport use scenarios to be viewed graphically.

The Sedgwick County, Kansas, GIS Department has employed GIS technologies to aid in its disaster preparedness planning and response. On one occasion, the GIS Department used the technology to map properties damaged during a tornado and to assess the values of the impacted properties. Staff then prepared a map showing the probable path of the tornado, and, with the use of aerial photography, they were able to refine the map.

In June 1999, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) joined forces with ESRI to develop "Project Impact: Building Disaster-Resistant Communities." Some 120 communities are participating in the project. The project has ESRI providing a variety of multihazard maps and information to all facets of the community. Its focus and associated principles are clear:

The maps produced during Project Impact will enable communities to assess risks, identify hazards, and to promote public awareness and mitigation planning and management. (ArcNews, 1999).

The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), FEMA, and the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) have created an innovative tool known as CATS (Consequences Assessment Tool Set). Using GIS data to display a number of variables, CATS represents an important tool providing information to support multiple crisis management decisionmakers.

6. State of the art in GIS/DDSS/smart communities in Europe

6.1. State of the art in GIS

Traditional GIS systems based on a single workstation or in a client-server environment can now be considered a mature technology. More recent systems can integrate imagery (usually aerial or satellite images), with high resolution and well-structured vector based maps. A small number of dominant vendors, including ESRI, MapInfo, Intergraph and Autodesk, dominate the market for PC or workstation-based GIS. Such workstations can stand alone, but are usually used in the context of a local network.

Over the last two to three years the role of traditional GIS has begun to change significantly. While it was previously used for both the heavy duty tasks of building GIS maps and databases and analyzing the data, it was also the principal viewing environment. However, viewing or browsing geographical information is a much less demanding task than building the underlying system. This was not cost effective and it greatly reduced the number of users for whom map-based viewing facilities could be provided. A low-cost distributed solution was required in order to popularize the use of map-based information systems.

The WWW and associated browser technologies were soon recognized as the most effective way of allowing large numbers of users to interact with maps and GIS produced output. In a very short time about four generations of mapping techniques for the Internet have been used.

6.2. State of the art in DDSS

One of the most advanced system for crisis management is the Distributed Environmental Disaster Information and Control System (DEDICS) designed in international cooperation and coordinated by the research cindynic team of Sophia Antipolis (Jean Luc Wybo, e-mail wybo@cemef.cma.fr). The DEDICS project is being undertaken by 11 partners from 6 European countries. Main contributors to the program are France (Sophia Antipolis), Greece (Athens and Heraklion), Germany, and Spain.

DEDICS has been initially designed for the monitoring of forest fires and floods. But the architecture of DEDICS is designed to face any type of emergency complex system management. This is a generic DDSS.

6.2.1. Principles of DEDICS

From the analysis of crisis command centers and discussions with many experts, there are a number of considerations in developing and evaluating models for crisis command centers (Wybo & Kowalski, 1998). It has been suggested that one of the key operational problems in emergency management is the lack of or inadequate communication.

On the other hand, since the 1970s researchers (Dynes, 1977) have explored human response behavior during emergencies and found not that social order breaks down, but that in many instances the opposite is true. People communicate, share information, assume and share tasks. DEDICS, is based on a cooperative multi-person, multi-expert, shared decision model.

6.2.2. The context of forest fires

Past disasters have shown that evaluation of the actual situation and communication between the various task forces and organizations need to be vastly improved in order to decrease the extent of damages. Especially during the initial phase of a forest fire, it is very difficult for the responsible persons at every level to obtain an exact image of the actual situation. Therefore, it may be hardly possible to make correct decisions.

The aim of the DEDICS project is to design a generic system to be adapted to a wide variety of applications in the domain of environmental disasters and more generally to emergency management.

6.2.3. Cooperation between human actors in the field and DEDICS components

Usual functions of decision support system components developed for the domain of forest fires include data storage and management, by means of databases, GIS, risk assessment and fire behavior modeling; and, more recently, weather data modeling. Two DSS have been used in the DEDICS project: Wilfried (Guarnieri 97) and FMIS21, following two approaches in order to propose a wide set of functions to users.

Communication between operational troops (in the field, in headquarters and with all concerned authorities) is usually made through radio; it may be ambiguous or difficult, for instance, to give an exact image of events or locations or to provide information when and where it is needed. To provide support to these communications, DEDICS provides a specific component: FLORINUS (Schmidt, 1995). This system provides two kinds of units: portable and stationary. These two units are identical on a functioning point of view. Interface with the user is made through a map-oriented interface, where icons and messages are displayed over a map of the area. Functionalities include generation and sending of icons and messages to selected users through communication links and monitoring of mobile teams by GPS.

As emergency management is often criticized for its socio-political consequences, special care has been taken about information given to the public. In a DEDICS system, a process of periodically downloading relevant information (concerning fire events, climatology and fighting actions) is established and this information is provided to the Web server component, which provides external (controlled) access to these data and frees the fire managers from requests during disaster management when all resources are needed.

DEDICS was demonstrated in France, Greece, and Spain, with different sets of components, during Summer 1998. Partially funded by the European Commission (DG XIII, Telematics for Environment), the DEDICS project was undertaken by 11 partners from 6 European countries

6.3. State of the art smart communities in Europe

Permanent updating of R&D on new technologies applied to territorial units are now available on two websites supported by two specialized associations:

Regular meetings organized by these two associations offer opportunities to discuss joint projects associating several cities or regions on internet / intranet/ extranet.  The projects include local government services to citizens, cyberdemocracy, education, teleworking, telemedecine, tourism, transportation, and cultural developments in libraries, museums, etc.

7. Conclusion: design of an integrated platform for the city/region of the future

The fifth framework program of R&D in the European Union has defined the concept of "seamless integrated platform." This concept will be at the center of multifunctional management of smart communities. The basic concept of the present paper is to design a territorial platform that will be:

The integration will be realized by a GIS, digitizing the maps and geographical information necessary to the management of local authorities/ governments. Emergency call centers will be articulated on this common GIS and reinforced by the DDSS technologies as discussed in 6.2, above. Citizens will participate actively in the design and management of the integrated GIS/DDSS platform. A new form of collective consciousnes will emerge. Fatalities and injuries in the day-to-day life can be cut by a factor of three to five.

If they want to be elected in the future, officials and community leaders need to get back to their "A's, B's and C's."

This is why we propose I-LARM, an exceptional opportunity for fostering citizens' participation and understanding of the real benefit of cyberdemocracy.


A List of references is available at the authors' Desks