Of the People: Keep your guard up'plan for emergencies

Ira Hobbs

Shortly after terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, I observed what I thought was a new and enduring spirit of cooperation and teamwork coupled with a serious-minded focus in the federal work force.

I wrote: 'Across the government, from security guards to executives in command centers, people focused on doing their jobs, and doing them well. They did them together. For those awful hours, all across government, people essentially formed high-performance teams that became far more than the sum of their individual efforts.'

Today, I observe the spirit that engulfed us after the Sept. 11 tragedies is gradually ebbing away. But federal workers need to recapture that focus and determination. We need to renew our homeland security efforts in our own bureaus and agencies.

Perhaps some fading of that aftermath glow is inevitable. Recurring events provide reminders that our nation remains under the threat of terrorist attacks. For example, banks in Washington were temporarily closed recently after a bomb threat. That one turned out to be a hoax, but the reality is that the longer we go without an attack, the more people tend to forget or grow complacent.

Perhaps I sound cynical, but I believe it is only a matter of time before we find ourselves forced to react to another tragedy.

And with this in mind, agency managers are obligated to keep doing everything they can to ensure sufficient preventive measures are in place for protecting people and systems. Preparing for disaster recovery and resuming business is not an academic exercise. By planning, I don't mean just drawing up paper documents that sit on a shelf, I mean live plans that are tested regularly.

While agencies develop and test their plans, it's important that they not forget the most critical component in the process: people. Does each employee know what to do in a crisis? Are we managers informing them of what they need to do, whom they need to call, where they need to go'before a crisis occurs?

We're living in a new era with unprecedented access to systems and unprecedented complexity in the technology. We need to be highly vigilant.

At the FOSE conference in March, Richard Clarke, the president's cybersecurity adviser, said, 'Improving federal IT security will take three to five years of continuous attention before we get into a comfort zone.' Although this is a long-term effort, we must begin today. We must remain alert and focused on the task at hand. Now is not the time to let our guard down.

Ira Hobbs is deputy CIO at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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