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» Enterprise IT Planet » Security » Security Features

Business Survivability: Katrina’s Lessons for IT

By Lyne Bourque
September 28, 2005

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Many of us in the industry have been watching the events in New Orleans and other areas hit by Katrina, and one thing became very evident: this isn't what a large organization’s response to a disaster should look like. Certainly, Mother Nature played a major role, but other factors aggravated the situation: issues with levee strength and scores of other failings that littered media reports.

In my opinion, some of the larger missteps included a muddled chain of authority and a breakdown of communications. If I were to try to pin down the overriding item it would be the apparent lack of a central command structure to direct the response.

Looking at the timeline there were some steps done correctly by some of the players involved. But it becomes apparent that those steps weren't sufficiently communicated beyond the decision makers.

Several of the problems resulted from inadequate testing of emergency response procedures as well as a lack of coordination. Many states, most notably California, routinely test disaster plans to ensure that they work and that those involved, particularly frontline types, are comfortable in their roles.

So we arrive at the questions that matter: if your business were in New Orleans, would it survive an event like Katrina? Heck, could your business withstand even relatively minor disasters (e.g., servers being flooded by burst pipes, power outage for 4 days, fire, etc.)?

What do you need to do to help your company survive?

Ensuring the survival of your business involves more than simply drawing up a plan to deal with specific disasters. It involves testing and verifying that the plan will work, similar to planning and testing fire escape procedures at home. You do have a fire escape plan for your family and pets? And you have run at least one fire drill to see that it works, right?

The thing about hurricanes is that there is some advance warning. With other disasters, you may not have the relative luxury of a forecast.

With this in mind, consider the following ideas to help your business keep going.

10 things Katrina has taught us.

  1. No matter the size of your business, you need a plan and a place for your data. All companies should have some plan to address various types of disaster — man-made, natural, political, and accidental. For some businesses (particularly smaller ones), the response may be the same: run it out of the house until a new location is found. For others, it may be more practical to have an alternative site and/or remote SAN for data processing.

  2. When it comes to off-site data storage, staying regional may not be safe enough. Remote storage or alternate data processing sites are suggested by some laws to be kept at least 75 miles from the primary site. Even this may not be far enough depending upon the area’s weather risks.

    Consider basing your alternative site in a location that won't be affected by the same kinds of severe weather. We can't escape Mother Nature and her fury entirely, but we can minimize the risk. Simply settling on an alternative site in another time zone (at least in the U.S.) can put many larger enterprises in a better position.

  3. Ensure that your plans are tested. Ideally, this is more involved than knocking off items on a checklist. At minimum, businesses should run tests that mimic the effect of the primary site being brought down. It's not enough to have the plan; you need to ensure that it works and get the bugs out of the system. Additionally, get your plans audited on a regular basis so that outside eyes are be able to find problems before you spend on resources.

  4. Speaking of resources, make sure that they are available, that you have extra cash for any unforeseen expenses, and perhaps most importantly, that you possess the right kind of resources. Don't be afraid to spend a little now for your disaster recovery.

Continued on Page 2.

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