Tech Scene: A New Focus on Cooperation in Emergency Management

Article excerpt

A new era of collaboration between financial institutions and the suppliers that they depend on for critical services like transportation and telecommunications has been ushered in since the Sept. 11 attacks, industry observers say.

Though banking companies have tended to cooperate with one another on security matters, before the attacks the industry had not focused as much on the interrelation among transportation, telecommunications, and power sources, said Catherine Allen, the chief executive officer of BITS, the technology arm of the Financial Services Roundtable.

"At a local level, the institutions would know their local players, but we hadn't thought of it in terms of this major geographic area," she said.

The attacks made clear the close link between physical and cybersecurity, she said. "You can't look at them in isolation."

BITS moved quickly after the attacks to gather a working group of experts in contingency planning, information security, fraud, and technology. At the request of the CEOs of its 100 member companies, which include some of the country's largest financial institutions, BITS began sending out daily reports on security-related issues. It also held a "crisis management summit" in October.

Perhaps most important, it established a center to let companies communicate with each other over alternative networks in the event of an emergency. Communications breakdowns between companies dependent on each other to complete important transactions such as fund transfers were among the biggest problems experienced by financial institutions after the attacks.

Ms. Allen said she expects the coordinated efforts, both between companies and across industries, to continue.

Another organization, established two years ago to allow financial institutions to share information about security threats, broadened its mandate from security to crisis management after Sept. 11.

"What we determined very rapidly is that the financial services industry as a whole is in a predicament," said Stash Jarocki, the chairman of the Manhattan-based Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center. "What we are trying to handle here is a whole new concept of how do we contribute to crisis management, because that's a new issue."

One initiative the center has undertaken is to improve its ability to send alerts via pagers and cell phones to ensure the quickest and most efficient communication possible in the event of an emergency.

The Sept. 11 attacks, and the Nimda computer virus outbreak that occurred a week later, illustrated the need for more knowledge about the financial industry's infrastructure and its vulnerabilities, Mr. Jarocki said. "Do we really know what our networks are made of? …