Agencies make COOP, disaster recovery even higher priorities

HILTON HEAD, S.C.'Federal and state IT officials are insisting that continuity of operations plans and disaster recovery strategies be part of all agency systems in the wake of last year's hurricanes and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Energy Department, for instance, is setting up a voice over IP infrastructure over the next three years that will provide backup recovery as part of its nationwide telecommunications and data infrastructure, said Adrian Gardner, deputy associate CIO in Energy's Office of Cybersecurity.

The Agriculture Department is revamping its data recovery and disaster plans in case there is a pandemic flu outbreak or a weather or man-made disaster, said Kathleen Rundle, associate CIO for USDA's National Information Technology Center.

'We need to have a COOP plan for 60 days instead of just 30 days with the pandemic,' she said. 'We have to figure out how to address essential functions like time and attendance if employees will be out that long.'

Gardner and Rundle were among the panelists yesterday who discussed how federal, state and local governments are preparing for disasters differently than three or five years ago.

'Since Sept. 11, we've released our COOP plans across DOE, we've tested our storage area network and we are looking at the security of our network applications,' Gardner said at the 26th annual Management of Change conference sponsored by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council. 'We have a hard outer shell, but our inner shell is looser. We need to improve it.'

Energy did that when it competed its infrastructure support under a public-private competition under the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 last year. The in-house employee team, along with contractor support, won the bid; Gardner said installing VOIP was a key part of the package.

'It will bring us cost savings as well as COOP capability,' he said.

Along with VOIP, the other important rule the CIO's office has in place is that no system goes into operation in the department until it is approved under a certification and accreditation process, which includes a tested disaster recovery plan.

'This will hold the leadership and the system owner accountable so they know how important COOP is,' Gardner said.

Leonard Scott, captain of the Corpus Christi, Texas, police department and manager of the city's WiFi deployment, has to do very little convincing of how important COOP and disaster recovery are for his 275,000-person town on the southern coast of the state.

'We are a cute little city that has been threatened with annihilation for years,' he said half jokingly. 'In case of a storm, we have to evacuate everyone in 48 hours, so we developed the logistics to get it done with a common radio system; we operate a crisis management dispatch system; we charge all citizens with, and hope to educate them on, their responsibility to have a plan to run or hide; and our communications infrastructure has built in redundancy.'

Scott said he is overseeing the development of a WiFi network that will be able to back up the voice network and run on battery or solar power.

'We can put up a backup solar panel much easier than to put up a radio tower,' Scott said.

Agriculture's Rundle is most concerned about backing up data. She said the agency's current data center backup is getting too small, and buying services from IBM Corp. and shipping tapes is not the best way to do business.

'We need a hot failover site,' she said. 'Our problem is, we are a fee-for-service organization, so we don't have the funding to just build a new site.'

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