For California Vendors, Contingency Plans are Key

Solid business continuity planning is helping companies deal with the raging wildfires.

The wildfires raging through much of Southern California have forced companies in the area to fall back onto their business continuity plans. Those with solid plans seem to be weathering the disaster fairly well, while others may be more strongly impacted by the crisis.

Overland Storage, of San Diego, has been greatly affected by the wildfires, with a large percentage of its 260 employees in and around the city impacted directly or indirectly. Even though the headquarters itself has not been threatened, the far-reaching aspect of these fires has made it difficult for employees to travel to the office to answer tech support calls and perform other tasks. Employees continue to work remotely via secure VPM and a company-wide intranet, said President Vern LoForti.

In some cases, Overland Storage has rerouted direct office phone lines to home phones, and employees communicate via text message, since local authorities have requested that cell phone use be limited during the disaster, LoForti said.

"Our reliance on secure networking technology has been instrumental in keeping our operations functioning while also enabling employees to retain some sense of normalcy in their daily work lives while dealing with a disaster of this magnitude," he said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifTech companies are forced to close in the wake of California wildfires. Click here to read more.

To ensure that customers are given prompt support, employees at other Overland Storage locations are jumping in to help. In addition, the companys United Kingdom tech support team is responding to calls based in the United States to expedite responses.

At Kintera, the San Diego companys product—a SAAS (software as a service) offering that helps organizations increase efficiency—has ensured that customer service will not be affected.

"As a SAAS provider, we have measures in place that enable us to continuously provide our software solutions to our clients without interruptions, so the fires affecting our area have had minimal to no impact on the organizations we serve," said CEO Rich LaBarbera.

However, most of Kinteras San Diego-based employees have been affected to varying degrees, causing the company to invoke its contingency plan. The plan includes a fault-tolerant system and redundant data centers that run independent of Kinteras primary San Diego location. In addition, as part of the disaster recovery plan, the company has deployed employees to additional data centers, which enables Kintera to quickly switch primary operations from San Diego. In addition, all IT staff can work remotely with full access to all mission-critical systems, said CTO Scott Crowder.

Secure content management and archiving vendor St. Bernard Software, also of San Diego, is using its position as an on-demand services provider as a platform to build its business-continuity and disaster-recovery structure, and it has paid off.

"We had already taken all of the critical infrastructure for IT, like our CRM [customer relationship management] system and back-office accounting system, and moved them into the same data centers where we have our on-demand services infrastructure running for our customers," said CEO Vince Rossi. "So we could continue to operate, despite the fact that a lot of our employees were displaced from their homes and the only employees really working—at least initially on [Oct. 22], when we all felt the initial effects—could do their jobs."

Even companies not in the direct line of the fire are poised and ready. Although the corporate offices of computer security company Websense arent in an evacuation area, for example, the company encouraged its San Diego-based employees to stay home Oct. 22 if affected by the fires, and closed its San Diego headquarters the next day so employees could focus on their own issues. During that time, many employees have continued to work at home, using company laptops and e-mail-enabled PDAs to access the corporate network, said spokesman Cas Purdy.

If necessary, Websense will invoke its business continuity plans, which the company bolstered following the San Diego wildfires of 2003.

"Following those wildfires, we developed detailed business continuity plans and created global capabilities in technical support to complement our San Diego-based operations. Thats part of becoming a global company," Purdy said.

He said Websense also regularly reviews and updates its contingency plans for potential events that could impact its business.

"This event isnt over yet; as things return to normal we will identify lessons learned and update our plans as necessary," he said.

Thats exactly the tack Kintera plans to take. Although he credits the companys contingency plan for getting it through the crisis, LaBarbera plans to take another look at the way employees communicate during a crisis after the danger from the wildfires has passed.

"During the past two days, we relied primarily on e-mail and instant messaging to communicate with employees on both company and personal matters. Although both were effective, in the future we may consider alternative technologies and systems that will help us better communicate with employees in times of crisis," he said.

St. Bernard Softwares Rossi echoes those sentiments.

"We have mechanisms in place to provide employee notification, such as hotlines with prerecorded messages and a call list to disseminate information, but for the first day at least, of our 150 employees, we probably had 30 or 40 we couldnt reach and didnt hear from," he said.

As a result, Rossi plans to extend beyond phone contact and collect personal cell phone information, as well as provide explicit instructions for how to contact the company and how the company will contact them.

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