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Digital New York: Still a Few Bugs in the System 2011/09/05

Posted by nydawg in Curating, Digital Archiving, Education, Electronic Records, Information Technology (IT), Media.
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Hurricane Irene (not to scale)

Many of you know that I missed all the excitement last week as Hurricane Irene bore down on the New York area.  I was in Chicago for the 75th Annual Meeting of the SAA (Society of American Archivists) and it got so bad that I received warning emails from my mother and my oldest brother.  [I assume they had received but not read my itinerary which clearly showed that I was heading to Minneapolis/St Paul after the meeting.]  So I figured I was in the clear until I realized sometime on Friday, “Whoops! I forgot to close my windows!”  So I guess I can say I was tangentially affected (by guilt caused) by Tropical Storm Irene. . . .

But as the story was developing, I was in touch with friends back East and learned that some who live in my neighborhood were advised to evacuate!  My ex-girlfriend evacuated our two (Brooklyn) cats to Manhattan, and sent me pictures!  Well, I live close enough to the East River to start to worry about my (second floor) apartment. .  With a little research, I learned that I could find the evacuation areas from nyc.gov.  But on Saturday, I didn’t have any luck accessing the PDF or whatever it was.

So this morning, I stopped for a cup of coffee in Champion, and happened to read an article that “The New York Times reported that the city’s official website, www.nyc.gov, was down on the morning of Friday, Aug. 26.  The news outlet suggested that the site was overwhelmed by people looking for information about the hurricane. As of 1:30 p.m. Pacific time, however, the site was back online.   The timing couldn’t have been worse. In what New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called a “first time” for the city, he ordered a mandatory evacuation of various coastal areas of the city’s five boroughs, covering roughly 250,000 people.”  So this is dysfunctional modern-day disaster planning.

From the TimesCity Learns Lessons From the Storm, Many of Them the Hard Way” we learn that “For example, the mayor’s office had predicted a surge in Web traffic on nyc.gov when it issued the evacuation order. But nobody expected five times the normal volume of traffic. By Friday afternoon, computer servers had become severely overloaded. The Web site sputtered and crashed for hours, when New Yorkers needed it most.  In the future, the city will try to modify the Web site so that it can be quickly stripped down to a few essential features  —  like an evacuation map, searchable by ZIP code —  that are in highest demand during an emergency.”

Hurricane Irene: NYC Evacuation Zones

I’m curious about what is the “normal volume” of traffic on that webpage?  But it seems to me that this is ultimately a problem wit making information accessible, but not thinking it through to the extent that an end-user (who may have to evacuate his/her house!) has to first click on the PDF, then download it, wait for it to finish downloading, launch it, and then search for the data needed. . . . .  The fact that this is not an integrated system where a person can easily plug his/her zip code into an online system to find out if his house is in an evacuation zone  suggests that the system is not very functional, best practices are not in use, and further, that perhaps the metrics used to show how vital Digital New York is, are the wrong metrics to use.

Why wouldn’t the IT staff at DoITTT consider creating mirror sites for downloading the PDFs?  So the first victim of Hurricane Irene was NYC.gov.  “In a tweet earlier this morning the city’s Chief Digital Officer apologized for the outage while giving specific links (which were also frequently down) to find the city’shurricane evacuation map (we’ve included it below for your convenience). And the city’s main Twitter feed just put out a similar tweet. Which means, damn, a LOT of people must be trying to access the city’s website. We’ve e-mailed to find out just how many users it takes to take down nyc.gov but have yet to hear back.”

Well, fortunately, they’ve probably learned some lessons from this hysteria, and it seems like no one suffered much damage in this area and, ironically (or fortunately) September is a good time to Get Prepared: “National Preparedness Month . .  . a nationwide campaign to promote emergency preparedness and encourage volunteerism.”  To learn more about NYC’s Digital Strategy and the Chief Digital Officer check here for the Road Map.



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