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Parks forced off Internet

February 06, 2002

Parks forced off Internet



By SARAH MULLIN / Staff Writer


Internet users who want to check out National Park Service Web sites will find "Not Found" messages at the end of their searches.

The Web sites and e-mail for all U.S. Department of the Interior branches, including four area national parks, have been shut down as a result of a court order issued after the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Integrated Records Management System was found to be insecure.

Like others within the interior department, personnel at Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia, Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick County, Md., and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park cannot send e-mail to addresses outside the National Park Service and they do not have access to the Internet.

Likewise, people wishing to e-mail or check the Web sites of the four parks can't do so.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5, 2001, issued a temporary restraining order that shut down all Department of Interior information systems.

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The order was issued after the court hired a company to determine if it was possible to "hack" into the Bureau of Indian Affairs' computer system, set up a false account and tamper with another account in the Indian Trust Fund, according to Nedra Darling, spokesperson for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"Any site with trust data had to be disconnected," she said.

All information systems of the agencies within the interior department will remain shut down until each agency can demonstrate that its network of computer systems has been made secure against hackers wishing to gain access to individual Indian trust information, according to the interior department's Bureau of Land Management.

Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent John Howard said the battlefield's home page averages 750,000 hits a year.

"I am almost terrified to think of all the people trying to get information" on the Battle of Antietam re-enactment planned for September, he said.

"I would venture a guess that a good 30 percent of the hits a month deal with the re-enactment," he said.

The 140th anniversary re-enactment of the battle of Antietam is scheduled for Sept. 13-15. Park service officials expect 12,000 to 15,000 re-enactors and 70,000 to 100,000 spectators.

"One of the greatest effects has been the limited access to the National Park Service information," said Marsha Starkey, public relations specialist for Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.

She said the Harpers Ferry site provides education for teachers, information on how to plan a visit, historical information and a schedule of events, which now cannot be accessed by the public and potential visitors.

The shutdown has left some vendors and small businesses who deal with the parks unpaid. Howard said the parks will pay interest and penalties on bills they can't access electronically.

Kevin Brandt, assistant superintendent for the C&O Canal National Historical Park, said personnel there have improvised to pay contractors in charge of construction projects at the park.

"We send employees to other federal offices that are not part of the park service in Hagerstown and Reston, Va.," where they send out payments. Small businesses used to receiving payments within 10-30 days have to carry the costs longer, he said.

"This is a real burden on them," Brandt said.

The estimated 280 employees of all four parks are getting paid only for straight hours, 40 hours a week, park officials said. Howard, Starkey and Brandt said overtime, raises and travel hours have to be stored because their systems will allow them to send only basic payroll information.

It is unclear when the shutdown will end.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Starkey said.

Judge Lamberth extended a consent order that outlines a process for seeking the concurrence of the court to reconnect information technology systems to the Internet.

The U.S. Geological Survey was allowed to reconnect because it is responsible for issuing disaster warnings and for homeland security, which rely on Internet access, according to the interior department. Information on the computer shutdown and the case filed against the interior department can be found on the Geological Survey Web site at www.usgs.gov.

The National Interagency Fire Center also was allowed to reconnect.

The National Park Service has restored an On-line Campsite and Tour Service, which provides contact numbers for 30 national parks. No local parks are included on the list.

On a positive note, Starkey said, "People can't make virtual visits so they have to make actual visits, which we want anyway."

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park can be reached at 304-535-6298, C&O Canal National Historical park at 301-739-4200 and Antietam National Battlefield and Monocacy at 301-432-5124.

Information on the Battle of Antietam re-enactment is available at 1-888-248-4597.

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