Instant Net Speeds Disaster Response

New York's Office of Emergency Management, obliterated at the very moment it was needed most, commandeers cruise ship piers as emergency management headquarters.

NEW YORK--On Sept. 11, New Yorks Office of Emergency Management at 7 World Trade Center was obliterated at the very moment it was needed the most. To help the city get back on its feet after the most appalling disaster in the nations history, the agencys workers needed to get up and running in new space. Fast.

Unlike most businesses in the WTC plaza, however, the OEM, which coordinates relief efforts among city agencies and helps set up emergency assistance facilities, had no backup site to turn to. As a result, improvisation was the order of the day.

As the disaster unfolded Sept. 11, the OEMs response evolved, said Henry Jackson, deputy director of finance and administration for the OEM. "After the first explosion, we started to activate at 7 WTC," Jackson said. "When the second one happened, we evacuated immediately."

At first, the OEMs emergency management center was set up in a local fire department building and at the New York City Police Academy on the East Side of Manhattan. But they proved too small.

At noon Sept. 13, an order came from Mayor Rudolph Giulianis office to pack up and move out. The mayor had commandeered two cruise ship terminals on the West Side as emergency management headquarters. At the time of the attack, the facilities, Piers 90 and 92, were vacant but ripe for outfitting by a skilled, tireless IT SWAT team.

What was needed most were an instant data center and workgroup LANs for 350 people in the OEM who were now operating from within the cavernous Pier 92 and 400 more who were in the makeshift Family Assistance Center next door at Pier 94. The Family Assistance Center is where victims families go to find information about missing loved ones.

As this was being set up, the Federal Emergency Management Agency moved to set up shop in the adjacent Pier 90, although some FEMA personnel are also at Pier 92.

It so happened that the cruise ship terminals were well-suited for this special purpose, according to David Shatzkes, vice president of delivery for government services with Computer Horizons Corp., in New York.

"This is the perfect environment to do this," Shatzkes said. "There are no ceiling tiles, and its easy to run cable." He said that because the piers are sometimes used for trade shows, theyre well-equipped with electrical outlets.

To make the move happen, the OEMs core IT staff of 16 Computer Horizons people was quickly enlarged to pull cable and install desktops, servers and network switches. By Friday evening, Sept. 14, the network for the OEM was up and running.

Computer Horizons staff continued to work round-the-clock over the weekend to get the Family Assistance Center online. Its 400 workstations on Pier 94 were ready to go live at 6 a.m. Sept. 17. That move included the installation of DNA test lab equipment used in identifying the victims.

Piers 92 and 94 have nearly identical architectures. Each consists of a number of workgroups that can accommodate between 10 and 48 workstations, primarily Compaq Computer Corp. Pentium 4 machines running Windows 2000. Pier 92 has about 25 such groups, while Pier 94 has about 35.

Each workgroup is linked in a 100BaseT LAN via a Cisco Systems Inc. Cisco 3548 switch. The workgroups, in turn, are connected by optical-fiber backbones to two Cisco Catalyst 6509 switches. Those two switches at Pier 92 are linked via fiber to two identical switches at Pier 94. Server needs for both piers are handled by 20 Compaq ProLiant servers at Pier 92.

Connectivity to the outside is provided by 25 T-1 lines supplied by Verizon Communications Inc. Every workstation has broadband Internet access via AOL Time Warner Inc. facilities and is protected by a Cisco PIX 525 firewall.

At Pier 92, telecommunications is provided by a Nortel Networks Ltd. Option 81c switch. At Pier 94, meanwhile, VOIP (voice over IP) is implemented using the Catalyst switches and Cisco phones. The Nortel switches back up the Catalyst VOIP and vice versa.

In all, there is some 500,000 feet of cable, 300,000 in the Family Assistance Center and 200,000 in the emergency management headquarters.

Jackson said the OEM has no idea how long it will have to hold forth on the piers, but it is prepared to stay indefinitely. "We didnt have a contingency for our building getting blown up. When we start to plan the next one, we will look at something out of the hot zone, maybe underground," Jackson said.