Jan 08 2013

Disaster Recovery: New Jersey CIO E. Steven Emanuel on Hurricane Sandy

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey is ready for an exciting 2013.

E. Steven Emanuel returned to his home state in late 2011 when he took the position of CIO for the state of New Jersey. He brought to the post a keen understanding of public sector IT challenges from his previous position as CIO for Montgomery County, Md. Before that, Emanuel rose through the ranks at Amtrak to head up the railroad's IT operations. The New Jersey CIO spoke with StateTech Managing Editor Amy Schurr about the technology direction of his state and how the state maintained continuity of operations in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

STATETECH: What is the mission of the Office of Information Technology?

EMANUEL: OIT's mission is to facilitate the cost-effective administration of IT operations within the executive branch of state government. We're establishing an enterprise architecture; maintaining a secure, reliable and cost-efficient IT infrastructure; maximizing opportunities for data sharing and integration; supporting the development and appropriate oversight of agency IT projects; and expanding e-government applications to improve service to citizens and businesses.

STATETECH: What technology initiatives does your team plan to undertake this year?

EMANUEL: One of our primary initiatives involves reducing dependency on commercial data circuits by leveraging state-owned fiber assets. The goals are to standardize on a common architecture, decrease recurring commercial carrier charges and provide increased quality of service for voice, data and video.

The state's 700 megahertz Project 25 Trunked Radio System has generated a great deal of interest from local and county governments. P25 is the next step in interoperable public safety radio operations and offers an immediate opportunity for local government organizations to retire outdated or failing radio systems in favor of subscribing to the P25 system.

OIT is also improving the state's response to cybersecurity threats by investing in tools that minimize the risk of intrusion and improve the ability to detect threats that may hinder the delivery of services to citizens or businesses.

STATETECH: Where is New Jersey applying cloud computing?

EMANUEL: The departments of Labor and Workforce Development, Environmental Protection, Economic Development, Law and Public Safety, Treasury and OIT are just a few of the state agencies currently utilizing software as a service or hybrid SaaS to deliver services. Applications range from online reservation sharing to America's Job Link Alliance to geographic information systems. In the near future, we'll embrace cloud storage where appropriate.

STATETECH: What did the state IT department do to prepare for Superstorm Sandy?

EMANUEL: Having gone through storms in the past, although nothing like Sandy, one best practice I incorporated was a thorough communications plan. To make sure we can reach essential staff, a list was compiled that had multiple modes of contact information per person. In terms of facilities, we also conducted an assessment of data center power and generators, developed a fueling plan, amped up our cyber­security and talked with our vendors.

"I majored in sociology and criminology. It's an interesting blend — technology strategizing fits with criminology analysis and investigation; and customer service is about sociology."

Read more about Emanuel's plan for the future of New Jersey.

STATETECH: How did state IT systems fare during the storm?

EMANUEL: Our new 700 megahertz radio system really stood up as something the state of New Jersey did well. It literally stood through the storm. The radios, chargers and additional batteries distributed to policing agencies really kept public-safety communications going. It was a phenomenal indication that New Jersey can run very high-grade, visible statewide projects.

From a systems perspective, we dodged a pretty big bullet. The backup power stayed on. We had no major roof leaks or wind damage.

STATETECH: How did you enable a remote workforce?

EMANUEL: We received 1,500 requests for remote access capability; 1,000 came in the two days prior to the storm. We supplied a number of aircards. Fortunately, many applications were built on highly available platforms and access isn't necessarily dependent on state-owned devices. We put controls in place to make sure employees don't access our systems with potentially tainted personal devices.

STATETECH: What lessons did the state learn from Sandy?

EMANUEL: I wish we had more robust data connectivity. And there were some continuity planning challenges with locations that were inaccessible or not connected. Before people forget what could have occurred, I'd like a cooperative discussion with folks across the board to share lessons learned and what could be done differently. This will help drive how we approach disaster recovery in the future and guide us in prioritizing improvements statewide. But most importantly, I learned what a tight-knit community we are...colleagues and vendors from around the country contacted us to pledge help.

STATETECH: How has technology made a difference for New Jersey residents?

EMANUEL: Recent initiatives at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Motor Vehicle Commission have expanded constituent self-service access to information. In the past, transactions such as filing unemployment certifications or obtaining certain documents required in-person visits. Technology has expedited the filing of business and personal tax returns, which can now be done online as opposed to standard mail. The state is using technology to create a more transparent government via YourMoney.NJ.Gov; and to improve regulatory processes to promote job creation and retention, economic growth and investment in New Jersey.

STATETECH: What makes you proudest about working in government IT?

EMANUEL: Government IT is all about customer service. I am working to ensure that e-government solutions are put in place to help improve the lives of citizens. I live and work in a great state — a state I grew up in; and I believe New Jersey has the ability to be a leader of innovation.

Shared Goals

The New Jersey CIO Collaboration Council places a high priority on addressing these issues:

  • Cloud services
  • Architecture and data models
  • Procurement
  • Document management
  • Staffing
  • Infrastructure improvements and management
  • Services delivery
  • E-mail
John Emerson