In crisis mode

Information technology in recent years has played a leading role in helping federal officials respond to national crises.

But in the case of the Year 2000, IT nearly caused one. Programmers had created a two-digit date field in a host of systems. Those systems, it was feared, would lock up or create errors with the dawn of 2000. Technology, or specifically its programming, was held at fault.

But government and industry worked together to avert the potential disaster. In an ironic twist, the Year 2000 problem actually put agencies on a path toward disaster preparedness. "I think it led to agencies that perhaps did not have robust disaster recovery plans to think about that," said Olga Grkavac, who helped build Year 2000 awareness as an executive vice president at the Information Technology Association of America. Agencies, she said, considered backup systems and options for recovering from a system failure.

The Year 2000 issue also compelled agencies to take stock of their IT inventories, said Don Arnold, who also helped raise the problem's visibility while with GTE Government Systems. So, when agencies were tasked with continuity of operations planning following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, at least some of the groundwork was already in place.

IT response surrounding Sept. 11 was also noteworthy — and the subject of six Federal 100 awards. Marc Wolfson, a Federal 100 award winner in 2002 and emergency information specialist at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and his staff were credited for posting information on the attacks soon after they began. Other awardees were cited for building temporary IT facilities and executing disaster recovery efforts.

And IT went from goat to hero.

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