NYC's Office of Emergency Management: Designed for Disaster

July 23, 2007

"Designed for Disaster: New York City's New Office of Emergency Management" is the subject of a free public discussion to be given on Thursday, June 28, at the Science, Industry and Business Library in New York City.

Speakers include Henry Jackson, deputy commissioner for technology for the New York City OEM; Joseph Aliotta, principal, Swanke Hayden Connell, the architectural firm that designed the OEM; and Steve Emspak, partner, Shen Milsom & Wilke, who managed technology design.

The talk coincides with an exhibition at the library's Healy Hall, "Lower Manhattan 2010: It's Happening Now." Designed by the Lower Manhattan Command Center, the exhibit uses images and information to describe the major rebuilding projects underway in New York City-from Chambers Street south to the Battery. Lower Manhattan 2010 is on through September 15, 2007.

The OEM's purpose is to help the city's residents plan and prepare for emergencies. To accomplish this, OEM personnel monitor the activities of city and state emergency and law enforcement personnel, as well as national and international agencies. The office includes dozens of displays that support camera feeds from throughout the metropolitan area, proprietary video cameras at various secure locations, television stations, and international sources. The OEM can support up to 6,000 calls per hour during an emergency.

Designing this technology-intensive space meant incorporating current technology, with an eye to future improvements. Yet it was important to keep this 24/7 space comfortable and functional for those who work here, and for those who will come here in case of a situation.

"New York City's OEM may be the most important in the nation," says Shen Milsom & Wilke's Steve Emspak. "It must function seamlessly everyday-whether there is a storm raging outside, a police action that shuts down the city, or any other emergency we can conceive of."

The emergency operations center is the most critical space within the OEM. It is where various emergency and law enforcement organizations-New York City police and fire, US Coast Guard, FBI, and CIA for example-act together to plan and execute coordinated action during emergencies.

Watch command is a 24/7 space where officials monitor various sources-911 calls, news, and weather, for example-for emergencies or crises. Watch "commanders" are on duty continuously, no exceptions. They activate the emergency operations center when required.

The new OEM opened in June 2006.

Shen Milsom & Wilke is an international technology consulting practice founded in 1986. The company offers comprehensive services in the areas of multimedia, information technology, building security and acoustics. The firm has a staff of more than 150 professionals and 11 offices worldwide.

The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. It comprises four research centers: The Humanities and Social Sciences Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and the Science, Industry and Business Library-as well as 86 branch libraries in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English as a second language. The New York Public Library serves more than 15 million patrons who come through its doors annually and another 21 million users internationally, who access collections and services through its Web site (

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