DCCW's quick reaction within hours of 9/11 attack on Pentagon. (Remember 9/11).
Challenging the Concept of "Mission-Critical"
The month of September is busy for all federal government organizations. It's especially hectic for government contracting offices, due to the challenges of closing out a fiscal year and making year-end purchases. Financial and acquisition systems are predictably laden with purchases and transactions, challenging even the most sophisticated systems. On September 11, 2001, those challenges reached new heights for the Pentagon offices of Defense Contracting Command in Washington, D.C. (DCCW).
The 175 DCCW staff members in the Pentagon were close enough to feel and hear the impact of the hijacked plane. According to Helen Tozser, systems administrator for the Information Management Support Center (IMCEN) at DCCW, "It wasn't the type of situation where you waited to be evacuated--we all went running out of the offices. Luckily, one of us had the forethought to grab the backup tape. We shut the server down remotely."
Back in those empty offices, the server that housed DCCW's Standard Procurement System (SPS) and all of its data was dangerously close--about 100 feet--to the encroaching fire from the crash site. The cabling critical for e-mail access, phones, and many system infrastructures servicing the Pentagon had sustained serious damage. With only spotty communication capabilities, the DCCW team needed to make a decision about how to perform their mission, while overcoming a challenging mass of communications obstacles.
A Call To Action, A First-Class Response
Before the terrorists struck the Pentagon, more than 200 DCCW professionals (such as specialists and contracting officers) were already using SPS to support the army, air force, navy, and Department of Defense (DOD) customers, purchasing everything from pencils and computers to furniture and research services. Now, that same system would be critical for purchasing important supplies for the cleanup effort, as well as for new equipment and furniture to replace what was damaged during the attack. With the server down, however, users had no access to this critical acquisition system. The DCCW team needed to work quickly to restore the system.
Members of the Pentagon's Department of Information Management (IMCEN) carefully entered the DCCW offices and removed the server, now also in danger of water damage from sprinkler systems. The SPS server was then relocated to another room specifically designated for emergency operations. Maurice Pierce, chief of the information technology support team at IMCEN, said, "When all was said and done, those 200 users only experienced about six hours of downtime." Within six hours, contracting officers and specialists were able to purchase the emergency supplies, equipment, and furniture needed to support our country's military response to the attacks.
"As soon as the system was up, we began purchasing emergency supplies like masks, gloves, and protective uniforms," explained Tozser. "Of course, we also placed a lot of orders for communications-related needs, like computer cabling and network wiring. These are materials every office needed to get back on their feet quickly."
"The biggest challenge during this effort was communication," according to Kimberly Paylor, deputy project manager of the SPS army response team at AMS, the contractor who developed and supports the SPS system for the entire DOD. Nearly 20 miles away in Fairfax, Virginia, AMS staff members supporting DCCW were having a hard time reaching their customer/contractor. With little information, this main contractor who works with AMS, had acted immediately, finding a duplicate sewer that DCCW could use to host the SPS system if necessary.
Lessons Learned and Shared
Now back in their Pentagon offices, the DCCW team is eager to pass along the lessons learned from this situation to fellow contract officers everywhere.
The principal lesson? Tozser is clear: Develop a continuity of operations plan (COOP) to ensure your users can quickly regain access to the contracting system and its data in the event of a disaster. Where is your secondary or emergency operations site? Do you have a server with similar specifications from where users can access the system? Along these same lines, the standard practice of backups-often understated and overlooked-is still a critical one. Finally, compile a list of all staff members and their contact information, and make sure everyone knows where to convene in an emergency situation. Maintaining operations is critical, but accounting for each and every staff member is priority number one.
RELATED ARTICLE: DCCW's Top Three Lessons-Learned
(1) Develop and maintain a continuity of operations plan (COOP).
(2) Back up your contracting system nightly, and ensure other sites follow suit.
(3) Ensure you can account for all staff members in an emergency situation.
About the Author
LINDA POLONSKY-HILLMER, a member of the NOVA Chapter, is president of CorpComm, Inc. She has worked in both government and private sector defense organizations; now she provides communications products about technology and procurement issues. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||Defense Contracting Command in Washington, D.C.|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2002|
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