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Cloud-based GIS from Esri helped the staff at Wall Street Network (WSN) keep producing online maps even after flooding from superstorm Sandy cut the power at the company's offices at 110 Wall Street in New York City.
Coincidentally—and fortunately—WSN, a technology solution provider based in New York City's Financial District, had recently licensed ArcGIS and ArcGIS Online. The company uses the software to create solutions that help its clients - including risk managers in organizations such as insurance and financial service companies—analyze and effectively present vast amounts of data to better understand the risks associated with a catastrophe such as Sandy.
Kristina Mazelis, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at WSN, learned about flooding near the WSN offices from Sandy in the early evening of October 29, 2012. She received a notification from her data center monitoring equipment, indicating that the offices' backup power supplies had been activated.
"The loss of power we experienced, along with flooding, meant that the company would not be able to use [its] offices and had to instead rely on people to work from home," Mazelis said. "We also had to support dozens of small and medium-sized business clients in the same situation. They needed us to deploy their business continuity and disaster response plans—making sure they, too, could continue to do business even in the face of such a devastating event."
WSN's engineers located in New York and Michigan were already equipped with all the tools they needed to remotely monitor and manage their systems as well as provide live end-user support over the Internet. ArcGIS Online, a cloud-based platform, was one of those tools.
WSN uses ArcGIS Online to create interactive maps and applications that can be quickly incorporated in risk managers' workflows so that content created by one user can easily be shared with others. WSN's clients can view and work with maps and perform analysis on smartphones, tablets, and notebooks, as well as the traditional office desktop. "Because Esri software is easy to use and incorporates all the data we need, we can build better products quickly and focus on solving business problems and delivering users new perspectives," Mazelis said. "We can remove the complexities of working with spatial data and provide our clients with the extensive discovery, collaboration, and analysis tools they need in their businesses."
When Sandy hit on October 29, WSN engineers never missed a beat. They continued to create customized solutions for their clients using ArcGIS Online and other cloud-based software. "Because our development is in the cloud, our developers' efforts have not been impacted," Mazelis said. "If we hadn't been equipped with Internet and cloud capabilities, we would have been dead in the water—no pun intended."
In what may now seem like a bit of foreshadowing, WSN decided months before the storm to create its first ArcGIS Online application for the insurance industry. "We chose this solution because we wanted to provide customers with tools to easily view and understand their policies by location to see how they are affected by perils just like superstorm Sandy," Mazelis said.
The ability for WSN to host this solution means its clients don't have to host it themselves. "This is an important point," said Mazelis. "The small carriers that exist in the US provide quite a bit of insurance in the marketplace but lack the budget necessary to run sophisticated catastrophe models. We've lowered the costs for some by hosting the data and platform. We are able to put together these apps, so now carriers of any size can subscribe to the solution without a huge capital expense."
After a disaster like Sandy, insurance companies try to quickly create models that calculate its impact. With ArcGIS Online, WSN staff can help these companies understand their true risk instead of playing a guessing game.
Geography traditionally plays a part in this process. Risk managers use a property's location to judge how far away it is from a hazard such as a storm surge zone. With the help of ArcGIS Online, WSN created a solution for risk managers to interactively view and discover updated spatial hazard inventory data to analyze information in real time. Depending on the catastrophe model created—a storm surge, for example—a hazard can be displayed on a map. The map can also include the locations of a client's assets, so calculations can be made to determine the company's exposure to risk before, during, and after a storm.
WSN's solution is changing the insurance industry from having to react in an ad hoc manner—for example, after a storm has occurred, asking what the damage was—to being constantly proactive. Hazards such as storms, political situations, and similar events can be monitored in real time.
Ensuring that the monitoring systems in place are available—even when the provider is hit—is invaluable. As of this article's publication, WSN's telephones had not yet been rerouted due to the storm surge, and the company is not expecting to return to business as usual in its offices for another six months. Saltwater damage to building wiring—including electrical, data, security, and elevator systems—means that all wiring must be completely reengineered and replaced. This is the fate for thousands of businesses in New York City. In many places, fuel, oil, and wastewater inundation has made buildings uninhabitable. The City of New York is working with storm-impacted businesses by coordinating programs that provide temporary workspaces and free services and supplies. Businesses in need of these services can view a complete list of locations.
"Lessons learned from Sandy were the unexpected benefits of cloud and mobile technology for business continuity," Mazelis said. "We benefited from implementing these technologies to deploy, manage, and implement our client solutions and understand firsthand the importance of implementing these technologies in our business continuity and disaster response solutions."
For more information on how ArcGIS Online benefits business, visit esri.com/business.