Raised awareness of the need for backup plans

September 11, 2001 was one of the United States of America's saddest days. My thoughts and prayers are with those lost, those who lost loved ones, and those around the world who have been similarly threatened.

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September 11, 2001 was one of the United States of America's saddest days. My thoughts and prayers are with those lost, those who lost loved ones, and those around the world who have been similarly threatened.

By now we have all seen images of the attacks hundreds of times. We have been shocked, horrified, angry, confused, and saddened. We have tried to explain to ourselves and to the children how such terrible things could happen. Americans will never again feel as secure as we did on Monday night, September 10, 2001.

While our borders were breached, our spirit is not broken. We are healing together as a people. The telecommunications industry has a history of meeting challenges. Life and business continue.

According to a "back-of-an-envelope calculation" by Stanford University professor Steven Block, an expert on national security and terrorism, a fully-fueled 757 or 767 jet aircraft running into the side of a building would have the impact of approximately one kiloton of TNT. That is equal to roughly 1/20th of the energy in the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

While architects do not design commercial buildings to withstand nuclear attacks, that does not relieve us of such responsibility for our networks. Businesses that have never before planned for emergencies, let alone such catastrophic events, are now contemplating what would happen if they lost all of their information.

What can we do? While there is no absolute protection against terrorism, not all disasters have malicious origins; fires can be ignited by a welder's torch, and floods caused by inferior pipefittings. Be prepared.

If "a backup plan" most appropriately describes where you are going when you put your truck in reverse, then the following tips are for you:

  • Develop a backup plan. Identify the files you need to back up, determine their location, and determine how often you need to back up. Your need will be based on how much work you can afford to lose. Use this information to choose hardware and software that is appropriate to your needs.
  • Automate your backups. Backups are only useful if they are performed regularly. Make certain your backup software can automatically run backup scripts. Assign the responsibility for monitoring to a staff member.
  • Back up every machine. Certainly back up your servers, but don't stop there. Every hard disk contains data critical to someone. Don't forget the laptops.
  • Back up more than just .docs. Don't limit backups to just your word-processor and database files. Be sure to back up your e-mail correspondence as well.
  • Keep a backup set offsite. You just never know when a disaster will make your offsite copy your only copy.
  • Test your backups before you need them. Verify that you can restore files from the backups-not an assistant or a colleague, but you-because you never know when you will need to know how.

Offsite storage options

In addition to having the usual data backups that most companies keep internally, offsite storage is imperative. Storing backups in that huge fireproof vault in the basement seems smart. But what if the building collapses, covering the lower level with tons of debris, either completely crushing the vault or restricting you from accessing your safe copies for weeks or even months? "Offsite" does not mean vertically separated within the same building or complex.

There are several methods of offsite storage, each having pluses and minuses:

For larger organizations, duplicating data is growing more popular. You may want to consider creating instantaneous copies of your data in a second location, miles away from your primary location. Pros and cons: Pricey but very effective.

Another option is to create copies on disk drives or tapes daily, then move them to another location that is maintained by a data-storage company. But if you must activate your disaster plan to a backup data disaster center, where will you be on the waiting list to retrieve your data? Ask before you sign the contract. Pros and cons: Less pricey, but you could be in for a wait.

Even the practice of keeping the latest backups on site while sending prior versions offsite could be considered. Pros and cons: Least pricey, but you would lose your most recent work.

Choose what works best for your situation and what you can afford.

Keep recovery plan current

Next order of business: have a current disaster-recovery plan. You need a plan that not only addresses preserving business operations, but also personnel safety and evacuation. Be sure to cover all the "what ifs."

What if your staff is forced to evacuate the building? Did they all get out safely? Just like the fire drills in elementary school, staff training is important. You should identify utility shut-off locations and train your staff how to use them. Have a preset meeting area, some distance from your building, where everyone is to report. Be prepared to record names, and to which medical center any injured have been taken.

What if your PBX is damaged beyond service? Immediately contact your service providers and have incoming calls rerouted to a service-either to live operators or, at a minimum, to a recorded message. State that your business has been affected by a minor fire, windstorm, or whatever the emergency is. Explain that all of your essential data and information was backed up and stored offsite, that you have implemented your disaster- recovery plan, and that you expect to restore essential operations as soon as possible. Then state realistically when. Be prepared to treat your e-commerce sites similarly.

What if you are in a glass building? They are more vulnerable to damage from storms, earthquakes, and bombings. If you are in a building with a lot of glass, consider how you would cover open or damaged areas (using items such as tarps or plywood) to protect your facilities and equipment from further damage.

What if your suppliers are also your business neighbors? Where can you get supplies if your usual vendors are also in recovery mode? Have a list of alternate suppliers as an appendix to your plan.

What if you need to set up an alternate site for office workers? If your staff is currently telecommuting a few days a week, you already have this temporarily covered. If not, you may want to consider equipping key personnel for telecommuting. Also include leasing-agent contact information in an appendix, just in case permanent replacement quarters are needed.

Remember that developing a disaster-recovery plan is not a one-time event. Just like your business plan, you should review and revise your disaster-recovery plan on a regular basis-at the very least, annually.

And here's hoping that all your diligent planning and attention to detail will never be needed.


Donna Ballast is a communications analyst at The University of Texas at Austin and a BICSI registered communications distribution designer (RCDD). Questions can be sent to her at Cabling Installation & Maintenance or at PO Drawer 7580, The University of Texas, Austin, TX 78713; e-mail: ballast@utexas.edu.

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