TBG & PACER
After 9/11, the U.S. mandated and partially funded the creation of multi-disciplinary academic coalitions to research and execute plans for and responses to homeland security issues. The mandate made possible the creation of the National Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response (PACER) at Johns Hopkins University.
Although there are hundreds of such academic coalitions around the country, PACER is one of only 12 to have earned the prestigious Homeland Security Center of Excellence (COE) by Congress and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Each COE studies a different aspect of security threats and scenarios, such as threats to the food supply chain, explosives-related threats, and threats to the nation’s multimodal transportation system.
PACER’s mission is to improve the nation’s preparedness and the ability to respond in the event of a high consequence natural or manmade disaster to alleviate the event’s effects by developing and disseminating best scientific practices. Academics within PACER study what might happen in different disaster scenarios, such as the availability of medical resources during a catastrophe.
TBG (The Berndt Group) has a long history of developing many sites for Johns Hopkins institutions. For this project, we engaged with PACER shortly after the Center’s creation to develop a rich, contemporary, memorable website—a challenge given that we were designing and developing the site while the organization was being defined. Truly a case of building the ship while it’s sailing! We strove to create a look-and-feel that would fit with the role the organization would eventually fill. Because PACER sets a best practice standard in readiness, the site would be used by academics around the world working on disaster preparedness.
Our design and site organization challenge was to unite myriad interests in one interface: PACER is a joint project of both the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins University; it is also jointly appointed and created by Congress and DHS; and its audiences are research scientists, government officials, and everyday citizens interested in preparedness.
PACER also had an operations challenge: They needed a content management system (CMS). TBG implemented Umbraco, an Open Source ASP.NET product, enabling PACER to gain all of the advantages that come with a CMS, including:
- reusability of content throughout the site, requiring only one input of content to appear in multiple places;
- automated related links, encouraging site visitors to explore all facets of a given topic; and
- distributed authorship, allowing staff with no technical knowledge to publish Web content quickly and efficiently.
In the end, TBG was able to take the complex and somewhat esoteric-seeming subject of disaster preparedness and make it relevant and useful to its multiple audiences, as well as provide PACER a robust and highly efficient way of managing content that is flexible and sustainable as the organization grows and matures. Readiness, indeed!