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Center Works to Protect Communications Infrastructure

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2001 – America is a cyber nation. In this post-industrial world, moving information is as important as moving people or things.

If you wanted to cripple America, one of the things you might strike is the telecommunications network. Fortunately, Americans are thinking of this possibility and are working together to protect this crucial national resource.

Bernie Farrell is the manager of the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications, a part of the National Communications System. It's his job to think of the unthinkable and craft responses.

Farrell and his people are the bridge between industry and government. Located with the Defense Information Systems Agency, the coordinating center works with telecommunications companies and appropriate government agencies, including the Defense Department. Farrell is himself a bridge between the two worlds. He has more than 32 years of telecommunications experience with the Bell System and the United States Navy. He assumed his current job in 1995.

The coordinating center is primarily concerned with the national security and emergency preparedness functions of the telecommunications infrastructure. "We focus on that narrow piece," Farrell said. "But in focusing on that piece, we work with the companies to foster planning and training and exercises that allow us to ensure that we can respond and recover."

This ensures the government and the financial sector can keep working through a disaster, he said. "Those things came to play for sure in the World Trade Center event and the Pentagon event," Farrell said.

Efforts at the center are cooperative. The government provides office space and communications capabilities, and industry provides expertise and familiarity with the various systems. The center works closely with the DISA Global Network Operation and Security Center and the Joint Task Forces Computer Network Operations. "The center has people standing watch with these organizations," he said. "The military and industry share information through the center."

The center's primary vehicle is training. "We go out on training events to each region of the country," Farrell said. "We bring in local government folks, local federal people and we'll bring together local telecommunications people. We sit down and talk about the various programs and how we line up in the federal response plan so that when an event happens we're on the same sheet of music."

The center runs three to four regional training events each year, plus internal "tabletop" exercises. "It's a big effort," he said. "Everything we do is a value-added proposition. If there's no value-added, (the telecommunications) people won't come. We get 60 to 100 people depending on the size of the region."

The center also works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal offices.

One side benefit of the training, he said, is, "if you put the right people together at the conference then they can deal with those things at the lowest possible level."

The national center shouldn't be involved with every little problem. "We only need to be involved if a problem can't be resolved at the local or regional level," Farrell said. "We don't fix anything from here, we coordinate. We get the right person in touch with the right person or the right piece of equipment to the right person -- whatever it takes to fix a problem."

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