Feds unprepared for pandemic flu, survey says

* Government agencies say their networks are not ready to handle continuity of operations for a long-term event

Government agencies say their networks are not ready to handle continuity of operations for a long-term event such as a pandemic flu, according to a new study commissioned by Juniper Networks.

The e-mail survey of 1,400 federal, state and local government officials found that the agencies were least prepared for a pandemic flu. Survey respondents said they were better able to handle cyberattacks, natural disasters, terrorism or even a failure of the public infrastructure.

Only 8% of survey respondents said their agency was "very ready" for a pandemic flu outbreak, while 25% said that their agency was "not at all ready."

"Agencies have made a lot of progress in the past couple years, but they have a long way to go in terms of preparedness," says Haywood Talcove, vice president of Juniper for Public Sector Americas. "The government is needed most when there is an emergency like a pandemic flu, so the government needs to prepare for those types of events. That’s when people will expect the government to work."

Most agencies are looking to their telework strategy to handle agency operations in the case of a long-term disaster such as a pandemic flu. Telework was cited as a critical component of a continuity of operations plan by 62% of respondents, while 41% said that all personnel should telework occasionally for continuity of operations planning.

Most agencies already support telework, with 79% of respondents saying that their agency support telework in some form – whether on a routine basis or for special circumstances only.

"In the past, people thought telework was all about reducing air pollution and improving quality of life, but this survey shows that telework and continuity of operations go hand in hand," Talcove said. "One of the conclusions of this survey…is that agencies are beginning to use telework for continuity of operations."

Agencies are making progress in the area of continuity of operations. While 88% of respondents said their agency had taken steps to improve continuity of operations, 40% said their agency had modified its IT infrastructure to prepare for continuity of operations.

More than half of respondents - 51% - said they have assigned dedicated personnel to support continuity of operations. And 63% of respondents say their agencies are aligning their IT infrastructure to support continuity of operations.

Agencies are confident about intergovernmental communications. More than 70% of survey respondents said government-to-government interoperational links are ready to operate under a continuity of operations scenario.

Government IT officials have concerns about lost or compromised data with telework. That’s why 37% said they have security procedures for telework and traveling with sensitive data.

The outlook for pandemic flu readiness is improving, as more agencies have funding in the pipeline for continuity of operations improvements. A third of survey respondents - 33% - said they have approved funding for continuity of operations, while 17% have requested funds.

One emerging technology that agencies say could help with continuity of operations is IPv6. Respondents cited several features of IPv6, including user mobility, end-to-end security and auto-configuration – as important to help agencies with disaster recovery.

In addition to its IPv6 offerings, Juniper is making its remote access solutions easier to set up and use for continuity of operations purposes. Juniper also is offering more flexible user licensing that customers can tap in the case of an emergency.

Juniper will host a series of seminars on continuity of operations for government officials over the next six months.

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