Lessons of Katrina

Opinion: Katrina exposed weaknesses in many disaster recovery plans, but there are some promising signs that Katrina's lessons are being learned.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spurred enterprises to new kinds of thinking about disaster recovery. Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall Aug. 29, 2005, in New Orleans, devastating the Gulf Coast and killing more than 1,300 people, forced enterprises to rethink their disaster recovery plans once again.

A year after Katrina, enterprises should be asking: Whats the worst that can happen when the ante keeps increasing? How far away should backup centers be—100 miles, 1,000 miles or 5,000 miles? How will I know where my corporate assets are when a disaster hits? How can I use energy more efficiently? Whats practical? Whats affordable?

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to see why Hurricane Katrina was the ultimate testing ground for disaster recovery.

Katrina exposed weaknesses in many disaster recovery plans, but there are some promising signs that Katrinas lessons are being learned.

Lesson one: Backup centers cant be too far away. A sign the lesson is being learned: Companies like Oreck, the poster company of the post-Katrina New Orleans recovery, has opened a new facility in Cookeville, Tenn., 573 miles from Orecks Long Beach, Miss., operations.

Katrina taught Oreck that that facility, only 76 miles from Oreck headquarters in New Orleans, was too close—both were shut down when Katrina hit. Cookeville is far more likely to be at a safe distance.

Lesson two: Supply chains matter in a disaster. A sign the lesson is being learned: The Department of Homeland Securitys Federal Emergency Management Agency is investing in its logistics and supply chain capabilities and the IT that supports them.

In May, FEMA director David Paulison noted that the agency couldnt track supply shipments once tractor-trailers left warehouses. "Weve put a very sophisticated Global Positioning System in place," said Paulison, in Washington, acknowledging FEMA could learn much from supply chain experts such as Wal-Mart, Federal Express and UPS. "That will be on every tractor-trailer that comes out of our warehouses. Well be able to track them [in] real time, live on a map, so well know where every vehicle is."

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about what companies in the Gulf Coast have learned about disaster recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Lesson three: Energy is everyones worry. Katrina taught businesses that they need to plan for total utility outages and procure industrial-strength backup power generators and enough diesel fuel for at least a week. Katrina also exposed a weak U.S. energy infrastructure, spiked oil prices and natural gas prices, and ushered in a year of high energy prices.

A sign the lesson is being learned: Enterprise customers and their suppliers are increasingly focused on energy. Fortunately, the technology industry has been tackling the power consumption issue head-on, with Advanced Micro Devices, Intel and Hewlett-Packard leading with new, energy-efficient chip designs.

While its promising these lessons are being learned, theres one rub: Report cards arent handed out until the next disaster. And as certainly as death or taxes, sooner or later, another disaster of some kind will hit.

Tell us what you think at eweek@ziffdavis.com.

eWeeks Editorial Board consists of Jason Brooks, Larry Dignan, Stan Gibson, Scot Petersen and Lisa Vaas.

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