Keeping employees in the COOP loop

For employees during a crisis, remote access to their agencies’ systems is paramount. That means the network has to be up and running around the clock.

“Everybody is nervous about this,” said James McDermott, chief human capital officer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a member of the CHCO Council’s emergency preparedness subcommittee.
“Many agencies don’t have a robust enough IT infrastructure to keep everybody working from home. You have to have big enough pipes for all the information to run through.”

Some agencies, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has many hundreds of teleworking examiners, have networks with the capacity to handle COOP situations, McDermott noted.

At the Transportation Department, a COOP telework exercise during the pope’s visit to Washington in April put its network to the test, said Deputy Secretary Thomas Barrett.

“Our normal teleworking numbers are in the hundreds,” he said. “On that day, they were in the thousands.”

Some teleworkers had difficulty logging on to the network during the exercise, though for the most part “it worked pretty well,” he said.

Barrett said DOT is now running regular tests on its network to ensure that it is robust enough to handle heavy demand from remote users during a crisis.

Greg O’Connell, vice president of federal operations at Netcordia, a company that provides network management software, said agencies need the ability to audit COOP networks constantly so remote users get the resources to carry out their missions when a crisis occurs.

“It’s the concept of proactively monitoring the health of a network on a continual basis,” O’Connell said. Such a network vigilance strategy will help detect potential problems, such as configuration errors.

“They’re simple things, but configuration errors are continuity killers,” he said. “A configuration error can bring performance to its knees.”

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