SSA ready with backups, checks

The Social Security Administration was largely unaffected by last week's terrorist attacks, but it has backup and disaster recovery plans in place to keep its systems running in case disaster hits.

Several field offices in the New York City area were without power and evacuated, said Dean Mesterharm, deputy commissioner for systems at SSA. However, other local offices were able to pick up the slack, and the agency said it will send out all Social Security checks on schedule.

SSA backs up all the data files in its main computer center in Baltimore on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, and the backups are transported on cartridges to a secure location. Each day, SSA backs up 150,000 individual files—such as beneficiary files and files located on the agency's regional and national networks—that are then sent to storage.

SSA runs backup tests throughout the year and annually performs a live test that involves moving its major applications to a backup site in New Jersey. The agency has two other backup sites waiting in the wings if there are problems with the New Jersey site.

"We are constantly testing the configuration at [our] backup sites," Mesterharm said. "All we have to know is [whether the] hardware and telecommunication hookups are sufficient to handle our situations."

Any agency that went through preparations for the Year 2000 date change should have a blueprint for a good disaster recovery program, Mesterharm said. "However, all these systems are in a state of flux, so you have to keep that updated and keep that tested." Without proper testing and updates, it would take less than a month before those plans are outdated, he said.

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