"It's been demanding. I don't know how else to describe it."
Even before Gov. Jay Inslee declared public transit an “essential service,” STA Network Administrator Ben Liebhaber was already working on how to keep the agency’s communication infrastructure running during the coronavirus emergency.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Spokane, STA’s Information Services (IS) Department was charged with making sure staff had the right technologies to continue service. Because STA didn’t have a large-scale plan for working remotely prior to the emergency, IS staff had to create one from scratch.
Liebhaber knew a one-size-fits all approach wouldn’t work for STA. Remote working solutions had to be customized for different departments, and sometimes even for specific staff members.
Liebhaber helped identify priorities as IS Manager John Rockwell drew up a plan of action. “John’s leadership has been crucial in our department’s ability to respond quickly and effectively,” Liebhaber said. “There was always a certain amount of people who did certain tasks remotely so we already had the setup. But in response to the coronavirus emergency we had to expand the program and identify which solutions would work best, both for who and what they’re trying to accomplish. And we had to this all very, very quickly.”
Because of the hands-on working style at STA, Liebhaber says working remotely was a “foreign idea” before the virus hit.
“Since the crisis started, there’s been a big learning curve for STA as an organization and for the employees too. There’s also been a curve for IS to support these people remotely.”
To make that happen Liebhaber and his IS colleagues had to deploy new systems which enabled more STA employees to work remotely, and then teach other employees without an IT background how to use these new solutions.
IS also had to purchase additional laptops and immediately configure them. Usually laptops are rolled out to staff over the course of two weeks, but under Rockwell’s direction, the IS team worked overtime to configure and distribute up to ten laptops a day.
“It’s been demanding, I don’t know how else to describe it,” Liebhaber said with a note of pride in his voice. “IS was charged with getting this deployed in a very short amount of time. People in our department have gone above and beyond their specific roles to get this done.”
But when STA employees began working remotely, IS was presented with new challenges.
“There are many, many complications from a security standpoint with people working from home,” Liebhaber said. “When employees work remotely, they are outside STA’s network and thus not subject to our normal security policies. This introduces additional security risks and complicates how we address those risks. There are people all over the world trying to take advantage of the situation that STA and thousands of other organizations are in, and they’re not good people. That keeps me up at night.”
It keeps him up at night — and coming into the office the next day. Liebhaber’s presence at the STA Boone campus is crucial during the statewide shutdown. With a four month-old son at home, that can be difficult.
“It’s necessary to provide transit to the public,” Liebhaber said. “That’s the whole point of what we’re all working for.”