June 8, 2010 —
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. –If the power goes out at home, you usually just light some candles and wait for it to come back on, but when you have the security of two nations resting on your shoulders, you don’t really have that option.
To make certain that operations can continue during an emergency where the command center at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., is no longer an option, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command command center crews will often practice moving their operations to the alternate command center at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.
Relocation exercises such as these help the command center crews make sure they can pick up and move operations as quickly as possible, said Col. Scott Glascock, NORAD and U.S. NORTHCOM command center director.
“The goal is to be able to move everything to Cheyenne Mountain without a break in operations,” he said. “That means we want everything to be plug and play and work the first time. To do that, we have to practice.”
Every month, the command center personnel will exercise this concept by moving to and operating from the alternate command center for several days. Glascock said this allows them to deal with unforeseen problems in practice rather than having to deal with them during a real emergency.
“A terrorist attack, a natural disaster, whatever the emergency may be, is the wrong time to find out that you have significant computer issues or something as administrative as problems accessing the alternate command center,” he explained. “If those problems are going to arise, we want them to come up during these exercises where we have the time to find out what the problem is and find a permanent fix for it.”
The command center crews have a fixed amount of time to pack up their operations and get things running at Cheyenne Mountain, and the goal is to reduce that time to as close to immediately as possible.
“The only lag time should be in actually getting up there,” Glascock said. “We want all the little things done and out of the way beforehand. If everything goes right, it should just be a matter of packing up a few things, driving to the mountain and getting back to work. These relocation exercises make that happen.”
Although the times are confidential for security reasons, Glascock said the continuous training keeps those times below the standards they’ve set for themselves.
“Practice makes perfect,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll never have to do it for real, but if we do, we want it to be perfect.”
The command center recently returned to the primary NORAD and USNORTHCOM Command Center after a two-week relocation exercise. During this timeframe, the primary N2C2 went through a significant upgrade of their network systems.