Shenefiel: Readying your network

You need ruggedness, portability and rapid deployment

The goal of the federal government's continuity of operations (COOP) directive is "to ensure continued performance of essential functions…during any emergency or situation," according to Federal Preparedness Circular 65. That simple premise is no small task in practice, especially in dire situations. In natural disasters, hazardous-

materials spills, disease outbreaks, wars and other crises, agencies have unusually high standards for technology in the areas of:

  • Ruggedness, to ensure optimal performance despite adverse conditions.
  • Portability, to support mobile relief workers' needs.
  • Rapid deployment, to enable temporary or mobile command centers.

To successfully address COOP, agencies must enable impromptu collaboration among workers, improve field visibility for tactical commanders and extend communications to ships and planes. Commonly associated with the military, those needs also apply to civilian agencies during crises. Public safety organizations that respond to virus outbreaks, for example, would need to mobilize employees to affected locations, initiate collaboration among experts and coordinate responses with partner agencies.

COOP implementations for hostile environments demand ruggedness. Also, the communications and networking equipment used in such an implementation must be portable and rapidly deployable.

Major considerations for supporting rugged deployments include:

  • Reliance on standards-based systems, which is important to eliminate delays in establishing communications links across organizations and lost opportunities for gaining strategic advantages.
  • Flexible IP communications. Disaster-response workers can set up IP-based telephony and conferencing in less than an hour. On the other hand, traditional time-division multiplexing systems typically take days to set up, which is unacceptable when rebuilding vital communications channels.
  • Self-defense against cybersecurity attacks. Preventive measures must integrate across all systems and network access points. With the rise of quickly propagating worms and viruses, security must not rely on intervention from agency administrators.

To enable secure voice, video and data communications, mobile command centers should include routers or switches with embedded IP-based call processing, content management and security. A portable command center in a box, containing IP communications components and power supply, can quickly restore urgent command communications in the event of disruption at normal facilities.

Virtual private networks let remote employees engage in secure collaboration. Working together, those components deliver crisis-management capabilities that can instantly assemble task groups in urgent-response teams, regardless of how or where team members connect, such as via cell or landline phones, remote VPN, or even field radios.

Rugged, portable systems that can be quickly deployed are the foundation of those revolutionary COOP capabilities. Agencies can function in remote environments as they would in their offices and fulfill the standard of "responsible and reliable public institutions" that Circular 65 sets.

Shenefiel is federal government industry solutions manager at Cisco Systems.

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