Sept. 11 crisis taught GSA quick fix-it skills

The General Services Administration learned new shortcuts in responding to Sept. 11.

'In some cases, we had to take government ownership of property' to restore communications service to customers, said Dennis W. Groh, acting assistant commissioner for service delivery at GSA's Federal Technology Service. He spoke at the recent Logistics and Supply Chain Management Conference held in Washington by the Association for Enterprise Integration.

'A lot of what I'm telling you wasn't in the original continuation-of-operations plan,' Groh said. 'It's in the plan now.'

FTS set up an emergency service response center in Fairfax, Va., by 11 a.m. on Sept. 11. It operated nonstop for two weeks.

In the first 24 hours, the emergency center focused on the needs of FTS 2001 long-distance customers in New York and at the Pentagon, Groh said. Within 72 hours the work expanded to IT services and information assurance.

There were 3,400 requests for new circuits in the first two weeks; FTS satisfied 1,800 of them. Since Sept. 11, AT&T Corp., Sprint Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. of New York and WorldCom Inc. have received 5,473 requests for new local and long-distance circuits, 689 of which were still outstanding in March.

Groh praised the usually competitive telecom carriers, which cooperated with FTS and with each other during the emergency.

Widespread outages

Sprint restored long-distance service at 26 Federal Plaza using a wireless link to 60 Hudson St. provided by Winstar Communications, now owned by IDT Corp. of Newark, N.J. Long-distance restoration at 58 federal sites in New York was complicated by the loss of personnel and of copper and fiber-optic infrastructures.

Groh said service interruptions were not limited to Lower Manhattan but extended uptown and to Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

'We took drills and hammers, and if there wasn't a hole where we needed it, we made one,' Groh said. They especially needed cooperation from owners of the building risers that carry service from the entry point to customers. 'If you don't own the riser, you're in trouble,' he said. 'When we couldn't resolve it, we had to take ownership.'

In buildings where owners did not allow installation of rooftop microwave equipment, wireless links sometimes were set up through windows.

Groh said Sept. 11 showed the need for diversity and redundancy in services over multiple wired and wireless links. Now, FTS is working to establish national alert systems and make text communications available for mobile devices.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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