DFAS improves disaster plan
- By Gregory Slabodkin
- Sep 01, 1997
Come hell or high water, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service has a disaster
recovery plan to restore its mission-critical information systems to operational status.
As the Defense Department's accounting agency, DFAS is responsible for ensuring that
DOD's vital financial transactions are safeguarded against potential disasters--natural or
At stake is nothing less than DFAS' ability to obtain and process data, without which
the department would come to a standstill, DFAS officials said.
Last year, DFAS helped process $266 billion worth of DOD disbursements for 17 million
invoices, 6 million payroll accounts and 2 million travel vouchers. It also collected $238
million from 116,000 debtors.
To protect its operations in a crisis situation, DFAS enlisted Electronic Data Systems
Corp. Under a task order of the Defense Enterprise Integration Services program, EDS
assessed DFAS' contingency planning in June 1995 and found its systems at risk because of
a fragmented approach for the agency's many geographically dispersed offices. In 1995,
DFAS operated more than 300 offices; it has since consolidated its operations at fewer
than 30 locations.
DFAS had been using an application called DP/90Plus from SunGard Recovery Services Inc.
of Wayne, Pa., to develop disaster recovery plans. But the product "was too
cumbersome, wasn't user-
friendly and required a programmer to run," said Susan Nielsen, DFAS' director of
Nielsen asked EDS to come up with a commercial product that was flexible and easy to
use. EDS recommended that DFAS adopt the Living Disaster Recovery Planning System (LDRPS)
from Strohl Systems of King of Prussia, Pa.
Using the LDRPS package, DFAS has constructed new contingency plans based on a phased
approach that includes emergency response, recovery, reconstitution, emergency
procurement, data processing, support and mobilization. The agency has three categories of
operations loss: short-term, 24 hours up to one week; midterm, one week to one month; and
long-term, one to three months.
"Typically, people tend to focus on the more devastating disasters like Oklahoma
City, the World Trade Center bombing, floods or tornadoes," said Joe Torres, EDS'
DEIS operations manager.
"But more frequent are system crashes and loss of power. LDRPS is designed to
assist with all contingencies, from top to bottom," he said.
LDRPS is running at 24 DFAS sites: its headquarters; the Financial Systems Activity in
Pensacola, Fla.; five large finance centers located in Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Denver,
Indianapolis and Kansas City, Mo.; and 17 operating locations (OPLOCS).
DFAS will complete LDRPS implementation next month at four more OPLOCS. EDS is
implementing LDRPS and providing training under its follow-on DEIS II contract.
In early 1996, Columbus became the first test site for the package. Since then, DFAS
has installed a 16-bit Microsoft Windows 3.1 version of LDRPS at its other sites. Next
year, DFAS will upgrade to a 32-bit Windows NT version that Strohl recently released.
"If you look at what we are using and compare it to Strohl's product, you wouldn't
recognize it," Nielsen said. "We've added more than 200 data elements and
changed about 80 percent of the existing data. That's how easy this system is to modify.
You can do it on the fly, and the great thing is you don't need a programmer."
The LDRPS software can be modified to add up to 140 fields per screen, said Leslie
Silva, a Strohl account representative. DFAS bought five LDRPS WAN licenses from Strohl at
a cost of almost $90,000 per license. Each WAN license is bundled with five multilevel LAN
versions that provide unrestricted access over the agency's network, the Enterprise LAN
DFAS employees at the lowest functional level within the organization can participate
in disaster recovery planning, Neilsen said. DFAS personnel have access to LDRPS via ELAN
and can add information to their disaster recovery plans.
With LDRPS, DFAS users can include just about anything that's in an ASCII file,
including graphics, pictures, maps, diagrams and floor charts, as well as the hardware and
software configurations of their information systems and employee photos.
DFAS' new disaster recovery plan is dynamic and changes in response to specific
circumstances, she said. For instance, if one section of a building is destroyed by fire,
DFAS can isolate what was in that particular area and determine a course of action that
responds to the situation.
Each DFAS site has off-site data storage facilities as backup in case there is a
disruption of normal operations and LDRPS information needs to be retrieved. DFAS users
know their roles in an emergency because they helped create the plan, Neilsen said. But
the system restricts users to the plans they are authorized to build, she said.