Lt. Gen. Charles Croom | Crisis gave urgency to COOP plans

Croom is director the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations

Lt. Gen Charles Croom

As Lt. Gen. Charles Croom ate his $2.50 breakfast in a restaurant in a small Pennsylvania town, he saw the newscast on the television screen: two aircraft had crashed into the twin towers and there was a report of a third hitting the Pentagon.

Croom, then the deputy J6 on the Joint Staff, was in Pennsylvania visiting his sister and stepmother on Sept. 11, 2001. After he saw the newscast, he immediately called his office.

'They told me not to come in but to go to my house,' said Croom, now the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations.

Since then, Croom says he has focused on emergency communications for senior leadership, continuity-of-operations plans, bringing more command and control capabilities to the Northern Command, and information sharing between the major combatant commanders.

It wasn't that those areas weren't important before 9/11. But 9/11 increased the emphasis. Croom equated this with being on a plane as the stewardess gives passengers instructions on how to fasten a seat belt and pull down an oxygen mask. Initially, a passenger might not pay attention to the information. But if that passenger is ever in an airplane accident or scare, suddenly the instructions become vitally important.

'I think the lesson we took away is that we're vulnerable in ways that we hadn't prepared ourselves for,' Croom said. 'We learned we need to focus on how to relocate and continue operating when our facilities are down. Initially, we thought we were immune from attack. Sept. 11 proved we weren't.'

Croom said the federal government still needs to place 'continued emphasis on the importance of the National Communications System and its role in the continuity of communications in times of crisis.' He also stressed the need to make sure the DOD has identified its critical vulnerabilities and fix them.

'I wouldn't say it's not being done. It's just something we need to continue to place emphasis on,' Croom said.

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