by Tracy Mayor

4 Tips on How to Handle an IT Crisis from a Maryland Tech Exec

Apr 15, 20033 mins

As prosecutors and defendants prepare for trials this fall of two men accused in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper attacks, government IT managers like Michael Knuppel are using their work during that crisis to prepare for the next one.

To Knuppel, CTO in the Department of Technology Services (DTS) in Montgomery County, Md., where the first five shootings took place last fall, preparedness means drawing on the best practices learned during last year’s events. Knuppel, who reports to county CIO Alisoun Moore, and his 140-member IT team supported Montgomery County Police Department Chief Charles Moose, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during the first days of the sniper shootings.

Montgomery County’s IT plans emphasize four areas suitable for fast response:

1. COMPUTERS: Make extra PCs available. Knuppel says it’s important to warehouse or work with a vendor that can quickly deploy many PCs (DTS installed 100 extra desktops by the second day). Also key is instituting a desktop management system that relies upon standard configurations and PC imaging that can load and launch computers fast.

2. CALL CENTERS: Expand telephone capacity and assign operators. Montgomery County needed 50 lines to field incoming tips. Knuppel says it’s vital to work with a telecom carrier to set up a single telephone number, preferably toll-free, that can act as a centralized calling point for tips from many geographic regions (and keep callers off 911 lines). Identifying qualified people to answer tip lines and providing the workers with an easy-to-follow training system is another must (Montgomery County used police officers). Also required: 24/7 technical support.

3. RADIO COMMUNICATION: Get different law enforcement agencies talking. In a crisis it’s vital to ensure that your radio dispatch center is able to provide patch connections between various frequency bands so that officials from different organizations can communicate, Knuppel says. Other lessons: Be able to quickly hand out auxiliary radios and accessories to task force members; document the value of issued equipment; and prepare for a 30 percent to 40 percent loss of equipment?particularly accessories?due to carelessness.

4. GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS: Provide police with base maps. The DTS’s GIS team gave police maps that showed both victims’ locations and potential sniper whereabouts, Knuppel says. The team maintains an up-to-date street database that shows current municipal boundaries, shopping centers, schools and other locations, and helps police determine how best to set up roadblocks around major highway artery access points.

Knuppel’s team earned respect from Montgomery County police, says Tom Didone, who was acting assistant police chief during the sniper crisis. “Every resource I needed, I got. Just like that?no red tape,” Didone says. “They acted as a full and equal partner from the outset until the end.”