A support team's extreme test
- By Dawn S. Onley
- May 24, 2002
GCN Photo by Tom Fedor
After assessing the damage, Neal Shelley and other members of the support center put their priorities in order.
At 6 a.m. on Sept. 12, Neal Shelley walked back into the Army's Information Management Support Center at the Pentagon to survey the damage and try to absorb the loss from the day before.
The Army lost more civilians and soldiers in the terrorist attack than any other service branch, and for Shelley, the center's deputy director, and his co-workers the attack struck particularly close to home.
Shelley's boss, Michael Selves, director of the center, was killed instantly in his office, where Shelley had been for a meeting about an hour before the attack.
Also killed were resource management director Bob Maxwell and Lt. Col. Dean Mattson, the center's executive officer. Luticia Hook, a management support specialist, was hospitalized in serious condition.
As Shelley made his way through the shattered remains of the damaged areas, he also saw the extent of the recovery job the support center faced.
The Army lost 89 percent of its physical space at the Pentagon.
Damage to the IT infrastructure at the support center was equally devastating, with 87 percent of all desktop PC systems destroyed, the central help desk demolished and backup tapes inaccessible.
'On the white board, I wrote, 'The decisions we make in the next two weeks, we will live with for the next four to five years.' That was the guidance for us,' Shelley said. There was no time to grieve.
So the center staff began the IT recovery process, equipped with flashlights, surgical gloves and masks. Taking priorities in order, the first step was to recover the center's backup tapes. The second was to acquire 3,000 notebook and 1,000 desktop PCs to support the Army personnel temporarily housed in an Arlington, Va., office building.
Third, the central help desk had to be re-established, which ended up taking less than a day. And fourth, telephones had to be installed.
The fifth task was to go into the dark, blistering-hot, waterlogged areas of the Pentagon to retrieve 204 servers, most of them Compaq 6000/7000 series, Shelley said. About half were ProLiant 6400R Pentium III Xeon servers.
'Where do you load those backup tapes if you don't have the servers?' he said. Although the water was knee-deep in some of the server rooms, most of the servers still ran, and technicians were able to restore them enough to operate on a network.
'We pulled them up and had enough to do business in about 70 hours,' Shelley said. All of it was done under the uncertainty of a potential repeat attack.
Shelley, a retired lieutenant colonel who orchestrated the IT recovery, said the job was complicated by tight security. He had difficulties getting workers around police barricades and marked-off portions of the Pentagon. Early in its investigation of the attack, the FBI put out a pick-up order on one of Shelley's workers. Agents had seen him walking around and didn't know why.
'Both sides were trying to do their jobs, and they came into conflict,' Shelley said. The misunderstanding was sorted out.
During the early stages of the recovery, the Army faced another impasse: How do you communicate when all of your equipment is destroyed or unavailable?
They found the answer in the very basics of information sharing, Shelley said.
'We walked around. We posted notices. We had briefings,' he said, adding that his office also worked and continues to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A key to handling this kind of crisis was knowing what funds were available for equipment, Shelley said.
He checked with the center's resource management office and, within a week of the attack, ordered hundreds of Dell Latitude C800 notebook PCs and docking stations.
The ability to use government purchase cards came in handy, he said.
The notebooks sit on users' desks inside the docking stations. When a user needs to take a notebook home, he simply slides it out.
'It makes it a lot more flexible,' Shelley said.
He expects the Army now to be even better prepared to handle an emergency. One of the lessons of Sept. 11 is to plan for disasters on a large scale, far worse than an agency is likely to face, he said.
'Increase the threat and assume you will lose more than you do,' Shelley said. 'You need to think big. Think big in terms of threat and present the threat to leadership.'
Jay Korman, a defense analyst with DFI International, an aerospace and Defense Department consulting firm in Washington, agreed that effectively managing a crisis boils down to planning big and starting early.
'It comes down to advance planning,' Korman said.