DISA sustains DOD's communications when disaster strikes

The Defense Information Systems Agency is the IT backbone of the Defense Department's continuity-of-operations plan.

Almost every communication and piece of information DOD uses to keep afloat during emergency situations rides on the networks and infrastructure DISA provides.

DISA fields, operates and maintains the department's Global Information Grid, its classified and unclassified intranet. And these networks must remain viable during disasters for personnel, equipment and information to reach the right people quickly.

Command and control

'When we look at DOD COOP, for us that is to re-establish command and control,' said Rick Fleming, DISA's chief of the Center for Network Services.

In disaster response situations such as Hurricane Katrina, DISA works with the Northern Command in forming a crisis action team responsible for reconstructing communications infrastructures in impacted areas.

In the Gulf Region, DISA helped install nonclassified and secret IP router networks and video teleconferencing capabilities. A small team also worked to reconnect phone services. DISA also rerouted major communication links from the New Orleans area to portions of Mississippi and Texas, as well as Atlanta, Memphis, Tenn., Oklahoma City and St. Louis, Fleming said.

In addition to assisting contingency operations, DISA'like all Defense agencies and services'has internal COOP plans.

'If our headquarters building in Arlington, Va., were affected in some fashion, we have an exercise to take those people and move them to other locations in the National Capital Region and for them to continue to operate,' Fleming said.

Another example of a COOP plan's importance: If, say, a person working a backhoe inadvertently hits a fiber link that takes out a Defense network, 'we have the ability to dynamically take a hit and reroute that traffic,' Fleming said. 'So that is a COOP factor for us.'

The Defense Continuity and Crisis Management Office (DCCM) is the DOD organization responsible for COOP across the department. DISA interfaces with DCCM for operational planning support, said Will Ritchie, telecommunications manager at DISA.

Information protection

'DISA's role, primarily, is to provide the backbone IT and communications services,' Ritchie said.
'We have to ensure that there's very robust COOP in this backbone support that we provide.

'Our plan to do that is not primarily to restore,' Ritchie said. 'We have to provide a very high level of robustness and information protection because many of these customers are using this for [command and control].'

DISA can often anticipate problems, Ritchie said.

'With sensors that we have out there, we can see what's going on and be proactive and, from a user's perspective, it's self-healing,' he said. 'We can see when services start to degrade and take actions.'

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