Network upgrades, cots are part of USDA pandemic plan

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is preparing for a potential pandemic with steps that include expanding the ability of employees to work remotely, as well as has having cots, food and water in data centers in the event of a quarantine.

The cost will likely run into the millions of dollars for the department, which has 110,000 full-time employees and 50,000 contractors. Among the agency's many responsibilities is testing for the avian influenza virus among birds and waterfowl.

A slowly growing number of human influenza cases related to the avian flu has raised the possibility of a pandemic. It's enough of a threat to require planning at the USDA, which is overseen by CIO David Combs.

"It's going to take a tremendous amount of planning," said Combs, who added that preparing means ensuring that employees can work from remote locations, and data centers remain operational. "The most logical place folks are going to want to be is at home," he said.

That means ensuring the capacity to handle a surge in traffic by remote workers, said Combs.

"Our networks are designed for current capacity," said Combs, adding that the agency must consider how much money to spend to give it "some headroom" so it isn't faced with an overload on its systems.