Continuity of Operations: What Feds Can Learn from Private Industry Technology

by Paul Cantwell, VP of Federal Sales, LifeSize

Paul Cantwell, VP of Federal Sales, LifeSize

The tragedies in Japan earlier this year and the massive disruption of communications in the aftermath point to the need for solid plans for government continuity of operations (COOP). As the U.S. is now in the middle of hurricane season, federal agencies must establish these plans immediately to ensure mission critical services can continue uninterruptedly.

Business continuity in the face of natural or man-made disasters is one area in which private industry has had considerable experience, and the federal government can benefit from this experience, as well. For many businesses, advanced high definition video conferencing technology enhances collaboration between geographically disparate locations. Information can be shared even when headquarters locations are no longer accessible.

The framework for federal continuity of operations planning actually has been in place since 2007. At the time, National Security Presidential Directive 51 created a National Continuity Policy for the Federal Government. This directive called for government agencies to develop COOP plans and to name a senior official responsible for these plans at each agency.

When a disaster occurs, FEMA springs into action. (Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides an outline of the requirements for COOP planning in the federal government. The FEMA overview includes items such as records management, continuity communications and “devolution of control and direction” – that is, moving responsibility and authority for mission critical functions to other agencies or personnel as needed.

A federal blogger recently noted a range of functions described by FEMA that are critical to continued business operations. These tasks range from emergency payroll and access to accounting systems to identifying a secondary location from which operations can run.

Some organizations are taking this initiative to heart. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts recently hosted a court staff meeting using a catastrophic earthquake scenario to address succession planning. In May 2011, eight judicial districts tested their continuity of operations plans, as part of a national exercise coordinated FEMA.

In situations where immediate communications is essential, regardless of the severity of the emergency, private industry has already adopted a type of all-in-one approach to technology that provides a rugged, portable solution for sustained operations.

TacticalResponder – Photo Courtesy of Extreme Mobile Technologies

Dubbed a TacticalResponder, companies like Extreme Mobile Technologies offers high-definition, wireless, battery-powered, video conferencing in a rugged wheeled case that’s small enough to accommodate airline carry-on restrictions. With wireless connectivity via 802.11 WiFi as well as 3G cellular, the unit is equally well-suited to command posts, tactical field operations, emergency services providers, and even first responders.

This is the type of solution that federal decision-makers should familiarize themselves with now; it is already being used successfully by private industry for exactly the same continuity of operations purposes that the government requires today.

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