In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest and deadliest storms in U.S. history, it wasnt long before its effects were felt at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Ordered by the Department of Justice to serve as the clearinghouse for reports of missing children and adults, NCMECs CyberTipline—at the height of activity—was getting a million hits per second. (The total number of Katrina-related reports about missing children at NCMEC was 5,088 with 5,088 reports resolved, according to the organization.)
“It took down our missingkids.com Web site,” said Steve Gelfound, IT director at NCMEC.
The organizations IT team realized that its database couldnt handle the number of searches. Gelfound also knew that any amount of downtime was too much. So, as the nonprofit organization often is able to do, it turned to its technology partners for help.
On the hardware side, Sun Microsystems came to the rescue at the organizations headquarters in Alexandria, Va., and installed five new servers to handle the increased volume. Technical engineers from Ingres, spun off late last year from CA, helped load-balance NCMECs Ingres database, which the organization relied on heavily during the aftermath of Katrina to better handle the exorbitant number of searches.
“These technical people came in and enabled us to do our jobs,” said Gelfound.
In fact, to help with Hurricane Katrina, Sun had engineers on-site to get the equipment up and running.
“They can call our help desk with questions, for maintenance or request that we show up at their location,” said Barry Sheldon, client executive manager for Homeland Security and Law Enforcement with Sun. NCMEC has been a longtime customer of Sun and has about 55 Sun servers at its facilities.
Founded by Congress in 1984, NCMEC is the national clearinghouse for the location and recovery of missing children in the United States. In addition to working with the DOJ, NCMEC is a no-cost resource for federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors.
NCMEC, which works in cooperation with the DOJs Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, credits its IT infrastructure with increased child-recovery rates. In addition to its Alexandria headquarters, NCMEC has eight branch offices in all, located in six states: California, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, New York and South Carolina.
According to the nonprofit, the recovery rate for missing children was approximately 65 percent in the early 1990s. Today, NCMEC reports that closure on missing-child cases is 97 percent.
In addition to disseminating photos to law enforcement agencies, NCMEC has several dozen program partner companies and organizations that redistribute pictures of missing children throughout the country. This widespread coverage gives NCMEC and law enforcement officials indispensable leads resulting in the return of hundreds of missing children each year, according to the nonprofit.
“In noncustodial abductions, being able to disseminate information within the first 2 to 3 hours is critical. The Internet has paved the way for us to communicate, worldwide,” Gelfound said.
While staying on the leading edge with technology is critical for NCMEC, the organizations technology partners also benefit from their relationship.
In 2005, for example, NCMEC was the runner-up, in the nonprofit sector, in Cisco Systems Growing with Technology Awards contest. The contest recognizes growing organizations for their unique adoption of networking solutions to drive business success. The prize was $15,000, which Gelfound said he expects to use to purchase IPS (intrusion prevention system) equipment from Cisco.
The Cisco IPS 4200 Series sensors help to detect, classify and stop threats, including worms, spyware, adware, network viruses and application abuse, according to the vendor. “Well be doing some testing this year and will be bringing in the IPS boxes to help secure the edge network,” said Gelfound.
The need to secure highly sensitive information that sits on the network, yet, at the same time, allow access to the information so that people, wherever theyre located, can do their jobs, is a big challenge for the IT department, which uses a multilayered security architecture including IPS, Gelfound said.
“NCMECs use of technology tells an impressive and moving story,” said Joe Diodati, senior director of worldwide commercial marketing at Cisco, in San Jose, Calif., who noted the steep security sensitivity issues the organization must deal with and the need for a highly reliable security solution.
NCMECs network architecture is based on equipment from Cisco, including switches, routers, VPN, wireless and security. In fact, the wireless network for the 40-person call center, created specifically to respond to Katrina-victim inquiries and which the nonprofit got up and running within 24 hours, used Cisco Aironet Wireless Access Points and Cisco switches and routers.
“We set up a separate and parallel network for Katrina because we had volunteers and, being very security-conscious, we didnt want to give them access to our network,” said Gelfound. Going wireless, including the use of VOIP (voice over IP) phones, allowed the network to be installed quickly, he added.
Building a wall around
sensitive, wireless data”>
While NCMECs IT department includes three individuals with Cisco certification, the team still relies on vendor tech support to solve network issues or help with new implementations. And Cisco support is there when the organization needs it, according to the nonprofit.
NCMEC has a strong interest in making wireless networking a permanent part of its network infrastructure for both disaster recovery and as a secondary network within its facility, and it has been working with vendors to help with security issues, according to organization officials.
CA developers have been working with NCMEC since January, when the organization began using CAs Wireless Site Management 4.0 product.
“The product allows them to build a fortress within the building to secure Wi-Fi communications,” said Bruce Freilich, presales consulting manager at CA, in Islandia, N.Y.
Not only is NCMEC extremely security-conscious due to the nature of the work it does—which also includes being a clearinghouse for identifying child pornography—but the IT department also has security constraints because the government and law enforcement people working there cannot have additional software installed on the machines they use, according to Gelfound.
What Wireless Site Management 4.0 does is build a wall around the wireless network, explained Freilich.
“So, for example, NCMEC does training for law enforcement entities, and [it] can build a mini-wall around the training center network so others cant get in,” Freilich said.
The product can identify the location of those wireless access points that are supposed to be on the network as well as identify unknown access points. “If, for example, someone plugs in an access point under a desk, wed know about it,” said Gelfound.
NCMECs IT department worked on-site with CA engineers who helped install and tweak Cisco access points to work with the Wireless Site Management product.
In the case of CA, NCMEC isnt the only one benefiting from the partnership, according to Freilich. NCMEC sometimes serves as a training ground and a lab for CA engineers.
“Because we have a great relationship with the organization, we often send them new people on our team who get a chance to cut their teeth there,” said Freilich.
NCMEC, for example, was also beta site for CAs SQL Server R11, a central database, and one of the first production customers. For CA customers with multiple products and multiple databases, the R11 concept of a central database is to ease administration and reduce costs, enable better integration between databases, and lower total cost of ownership, according to the vendor.
But it was NCMECs use of CAs Service Desk product for incident, problem and change management that sparked a new product opportunity for CA, ultimately leading to the release, in 2004, of the Unicenter Service Desk Dashboard.
As NCMECs IT department struggled with internal management of help desk functions as they related to multiple CA products, the IT department asked CA if there was a way to make Service Desk operational in a portal, said Gelfound.
Using one of its own products, CleverPath Forest & Trees, a dashboard building tool, CA engineers went to work. After a couple of weeks, CA went back to NCMEC with a solution designed to meet the organizations requirements.
“Within a couple of minutes, it was clear that the dashboard gave Steve [Gelfound] and his managers the type of functionality they wanted,” said Freilich. For example, a user can go to a real-time dashboard and find out how many help desk tickets were opened, how many were closed, the average time it took for an analyst to close a ticket, who was opening up the most tickets, and so on, he explained.
“In 5 minutes, we had access to all our help desk operational information, in one place and live, and were able to drill down in a live page for more information,” said Gelfound.
Lynn Haber is a freelance writer based in Norwell, Mass. E-mail her at [email protected].