Majority of Federal Agencies Ill-Prepared For Disasters

Despite hard lessons learned from both terrorist attacks and natural disasters, federal agencies still have a way to go in developing continuity of operations plans (COOP), according to a recent study from Citrix Systems.

Forty percent of 167 federal employees said their agency is ill-equipped to keep up and running in the wake of a man-made or natural disaster. Hand-in-hand with agencies' inability to maintain operations is its failure to embrace any telework model, which essentially enables federal workers to access the IT resources needed to do their jobs from home or even a remote center, according to the study.

"The government's initiatives around telework have bridged the gap between disaster-recovery plans and continuity of operations," says Tom Simmons, area vice president of government systems at Citrix, which released the study with the Telework Exchange, an online community focused on demonstrating the tangible value of federal telework initiatives.

Teleworking has received a lot of attention on the Hill lately, largely due to 2001 legislation that requires all federal agencies by year's end to allow eligible employees to telework should they choose. In addition, Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) inserted a provision in appropriation bills for four departments--Commerce, Justice, State and NASA--to withhold $5 million from budgets until they meet telecommuting mandates.

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While proponents of teleworking typically point to the elimination of gridlock on Northern Virginia highways and a better lifestyle for federal employees, continuity of operations is an added benefit. According to the survey, 90 percent of respondents who have a telework component in their continuity-of-operations plans think their agency is able to continue business operations in the wake of a disaster.

"As folks implement telework--whether it's a great implementation or a marginal one--the IT managers charged with the disaster recovery recognize it as an important component for preparedness," Simmons says. "It has huge potential when embraced."

VARs can assist agencies in their telework and subsequent COOP efforts by bringing a full solution to the table that incorporates such technologies as wired and wireless networking, security, communication systems and hardware. They can also offer the necessary process-management consulting services.

"We only provide one component of a telework solution; it's the integrator that has to pull all of the components together," Simmons says. "And probably even more critical a role of the [partner] is training both the users working from home as well as those who will have to manage them. It's a different business model that requires a different mindset and a lot of guidance."