Three cities show off government continuity procedures

Published 15 September 2006

Arlington, St. Louis, and New York lead the way by emphasizing data recovery and commmunications interoperability; trend shows cities outdoing state and federal continuity planners

“It’s expensive, politically sensitive and involves all sorts of turf issues among agencies,” says an observer about one government plan. Is he talking about the DHS reorganization or social security privatization? No. He’s describing the ongoing problems at the federal, state, and municipal level in creating robust continuity of government plans. The priorities are much the same as those of business continuity planners — data storage, off-site work locations, and maintaining vendor relationships — but this being government, internal conflicts can be much more bitter. “The best stories we tend to see are at the local level, where people have done a good job at getting smarter, getting information and sharing what they know,” said Anthony Cresswell, deputy director of the Center for Technology in Government at the University of Albany, N.Y.

Three cities, Arlington, Virginia; New York City; and St. Louis, Missouri provide instructive examples.

Arlington is the only one of the three that does not directly receive any of the $1.7 billion DHS provides state and local governments for homeland security projects (the city instead depends on receiving homeland security funding through the state program). After 9/11, the city was forced to abandon a planned redesign of its entire fiber-optic network structure, or Institutional Network, which provides voice, data, and video services for all county departments. Planners found the initial draft failed to account sufficiently for redundancy and vulnerable points of failure. The city also decided to use on-demand computing for its payroll and budgeting departments, and created an emergency IT unit that can install computers, notebook PCs, and phone communications within 90 minutes of a disaster. Emergency communications technology also became a priority: the city gutted an old police RV and spent $110,000 to fit it out with internet access, real-time videoconferencing, and mobile cameras.

Besides New Orleans, New York is the only American city to have recently put its continuity plans to a live fire test, only to have to build them back up again from the bottom. The city’s Emergency Operations Center was located at 7 World Trade Center, which is why the new center is being built a safe distance away from Manhattan, across the river in Brooklyn. A survivable communications system is the main priority: “We’re using server farms of blade servers and blade PCs, so all our PCs are back-racked,” one official said. “We’ve invested in multiple means of wireless transmission.” The city has also signed a number of disaster recovery contracts with IT vendors, developed notification protocols with local utilities, and purchased Raytheon’s TRP-1000 Transportable Radio Interconnect, a system that provides radio interoperability on mobile command vehicles.

St. Louis receives $9.2 million in DHS funding, ranking it in the middle of major urban areas. The city’s continuity efforts are closely coordinated with the St. Louis Area Regional Response Team, a regional organziation dedicated to earthquake and tornado relief across Missouri and Illinois. “The need for business continuity and disaster recovery is making more critical applications more Web-based,” one official said. “In our network, we’ve built secure, 100-bit Ethernet data pipes between the County-Regional Justice Information System, the City of St. Louis, the St. Louis Police Department and other justice-related agencies. We’ve also developed an extensive list of Web-based activities for different agencies.”

-read more in Caron Golden’s GCN report