August 02, 2005

Less than one week - that is all the time it took Scotland Yard investigators to determine the identities of the four men who allegedly carried out the July 7 terrorist attacks in London, largely because photographs of the bombers were captured on closed-circuit television at the Luton train station, from which the four embarked on their journeys of destruction.

That is just one of the ways in which information technology has been an integral part of the experience of this latest terrible event. By experience, I mean the reporting, investigation and communications of it, and the means by which individuals and businesses were able to resume relatively "normal" activities.

In fact, while it would be glib to say that it was "business as usual" for London- and U.K.-based financial institutions following the deadly attacks, it was clear that, in terms of protecting IT and maintaining operations, much has been learned and accomplished by the industry in the nearly four years since Sept. 11, 2001.

For example, a previously secret chat room - set up and run by Britain's financial regulators after the 9/11 attacks - helped keep London's financial markets open after the explosions. Reuters reported that the Bank of England, the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority switched on a secure section of the Financial Sector Continuity Web site after the bombings to communicate with major banks operating in London's financial hub.

Another manifestation of technology's power and ubiquity that would have been purely amazing if the circumstances were not so sad and frightening was the almost instantaneous reporting on the attacks via photography from cell phones and other digital devices. Illustrating the ways in which the public now influences how news and information are disseminated, pictures of the horror were posted on community and news Web sites almost immediately; and, of course, bloggers picked up where the photos left off.

But the big question remains: Can IT be used to prevent future terrorist attacks? Of course, creative, brave and sincere people will endeavor to achieve this goal. But the awful reality is that the communications and community-building benefits of IT that help in response and recovery also likely will facilitate the occurrence of future terrorist attacks.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...