Lesson 3

By Stan Gibson  |  Posted 2006-08-25 Print this article Print

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  • People run your IT systems. In addition to renewed location awareness, people issues, which might have been far down the to-do list of disaster planning for many IT professionals, were pushed to the top by Katrina, which prevented many people from going to work, deterred others from leaving their families in a crisis and otherwise cut off communications between employees. "Probably the most important [part of a disaster recovery plan] is the people component. Are your people going to want to leave, after their homes are destroyed, to work at a backup facility?" said Dave Palermo, vice president of marketing for SunGard Availability Services, in Wayne, Pa. To allay those concerns, executives have responded with measures ranging from the purchase of satellite phones to building databases with up-to-date employee contact information. In addition to purchasing satellite phones for key Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Sector employees, Rideout is deploying Nextels push-to-talk technology to replace a corporate radio system after Katrina heavily damaged transmitters. The shipbuilder is also investing in a mobile home outfitted with networking gear, Rideout said.
    To make sure that Northrop Grummans users of Research In Motions BlackBerrys can reach each other, the company has deployed software that lets users download PINs for contacts—and is looking at automating the process via push technology—so users will have the current PINs of fellow employees.
    Rideout is addressing another contingency exposed by Katrina—the inability of people familiar with IT systems to get to them and operate them. "Were planning on doing surprise drills, where we would choose a location and call the CIO and the managers in that location and say theres a disaster," Rideout said. "We want to make sure we can recover with people that are not at that location. Most recovery plans are based on the assumption that the people that are normally there will be there to recover the systems." Stuart Suffern, director of IS at Dupré Transport, a trucking company in Lafayette, La., seconded the notion of people first. "The No. 1 lesson was what to do if people cant get to facilities," Suffern said. "We had to move employees to Baton Rouge or Lafayette from New Orleans. We had to help employees find apartments. We bought vans to carry employees back and forth," he said. With its people in place, Dupré could bring its trucks to bear, carrying much-needed fuel and water. "We have many hundreds of trucks that can haul fuel in an emergency," Suffern said. During Katrina, the company stepped in to help a major coffee roaster, whose coffee is imported from South America by the shipload and roasted at a New Orleans plant. "We brought water to them in tanker trucks," Suffern said. "The most important thing is keeping track of your employees, with contact numbers of where the employees will be going in the emergency," Suffern said. He has purchased both fixed and mobile satellite phones as well as BlackBerrys for managers. "Communication is everything," Suffern said. Click here to see why Hurricane Katrina was the ultimate testing ground for disaster recovery. Sometimes keeping in touch is not a matter of high technology. "Weve given everyone a little card with three numbers—one [is] a number to call to tell us where to reach them. And a second is a call-in number for a daily 8 oclock conference call, and a third number that is for a departmental conference call," Oreck said. With operations back to normal, Tulanes Barron is now facing another kind of people problem. With so much housing lost due to Katrina, its hard to get people to move to the New Orleans area. "If you could send me some sysadmins or DBAs, I would be forever in your debt," Barron said. "Its hard to find people. They cant come here because theres no excess housing." Whats next? Most CIOs said their brainstorming has turned to how to prepare for a pandemic such as the bird flu. That kind of disaster would leave IT systems humming but prevent workers from getting to them. Data centers in separate locations that can fail over look like a good answer, several people said. Jones said Katrina has spurred Childrens Hospital to pursue working with other Milwaukee-area medical institutions to develop a plan to deal with a pandemic. Palermo said SunGard Availability Services is thinking along the same lines. "Companies tend to plan for the last disaster. Were focusing right now on a potential pandemic. No one is exactly sure what might happen. Will the entire country be quarantined? We recommend companies build in flexibility, since you dont know whats going to happen," Palermo said. While thinking of a pandemic might seem far-fetched, the most important lesson of Katrina might be that the unexpected—the worst case—not only can, but will happen. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

    Stan Gibson is Executive Editor of eWEEK. In addition to taking part in Ziff Davis eSeminars and taking charge of special editorial projects, his columns and editorials appear regularly in both the print and online editions of eWEEK. He is chairman of eWEEK's Editorial Board, which received the 1999 Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press. In ten years at eWEEK, Gibson has served eWEEK (formerly PC Week) as Executive Editor/eBiz Strategies, Deputy News Editor, Networking Editor, Assignment Editor and Department Editor. His Webcast program, 'Take Down,' appeared on Zcast.tv. He has appeared on many radio and television programs including TechTV, CNBC, PBS, WBZ-Boston, WEVD New York and New England Cable News. Gibson has appeared as keynoter at many conferences, including CAMP Expo, Society for Information Management, and the Technology Managers Forum. A 19-year veteran covering information technology, he was previously News Editor at Communications Week and was Software Editor and Systems Editor at Computerworld.

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