Gustav triggers COOP

With phone lines down at his district office in Baton Rouge, Rep. Don Cazayoux, (D-La.), set up temporary operations last week in a large satellite communications vehicle parked across the street. The House’s chief administrative officer (CAO) sent the van and 10 technicians to run its equipment.

That was one of several government continuity-of-operations plans that went in effect after Hurricane Gustav swept across southern Louisiana last week. Most state offices and schools in Louisiana were still closed at week’s end.

The House emergency communications vehicle that arrived in Baton Rouge Sept. 4 has 250 phone and Internet-connection lines linked with House computer systems, said Jeff Ventura, a CAO spokesman.
It is the first deployment of the brand new vehicle, which is one of several purchased after the 2001 terrorist attacks as part of COOP efforts. Ventura wouldn’t say how many vehicles were purchased because of security reasons.

As of Friday, Tropical Storm Hanna was threatening the Carolinas and expected to strengthen. The van might go there next if necessary.

On his Web site, Cazayoux invited local residents to use the van to call loved ones and file claims. The vehicle is intended to be used by members of Congress, but the members can authorize other uses, Ventura said. Technicians will ensure security on official data links with Congress, he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took aerial photographs that several agencies are using to help assess Gustav’s effects. NOAA made the photos available electronically through its Emergency Response Imagery Web site. As federal, state and local agencies use them in response planning, the public can view them, too.

Also, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon held a press conference Aug. 28, ahead of Gustav’s landfall, to invoke his department’s COOP.  Other departments and agencies posted closures on a state Web site.

According to the plan, insurance department teams were preparing for online registration and call center activation. Travel teams were ready with phone scripts, insurance company contact information and consumer brochures. Department officials selected remote meeting sites, stocked office supplies and completed computer backups.

About the Authors

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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