How these 3 cities keep tech running during a crisis

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In the last few years, the United States has seen its share of natural disasters. In fact, 2017 was one for the record books with extreme weather causing $306 billion in damage in the U.S. alone, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

State and local governments are the rocks that hold their communities together during these natural disasters, which is why having a business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plan in place so important.

Here are how some jurisdictions have prepared their IT infrastructures for such events:

Plan, plan and then plan more

Orlando’s IT department played a critical role in making the city’s response to Hurricane Irma a success in September 2017. It also successfully responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, which killed 49 people and injured 53.

As reported in StateTech magazine, four days before Irma arrived, Orlando CIO Rosa Akhtarkhavari reviewed her to-do list to make sure IT systems and equipment were ready at the city’s emergency operations center.
On her to-do list:

  • Make sure Wi-Fi and wired networks are operational
  • Transportation and public safety cameras are accessible
  • Set up phone bank using an IP phone system for citizens to call for information and report damage
  • Set up computers for staff who don’t bring their own

And while the city’s primary data center is designed to fail over to another center in the region, the department mailed encrypted tapes of critical data to Seattle’s IT department for safekeeping. The department also uploaded less sensitive data to a cloud provider.

When the hurricane hit, Orlando’s IT staff watched their real-time geographic information system map of power outages and damage. The map was updated as citizens called in and as first responders and public works teams assessed the damage.

Unlike a weather forecast, Akhtarkhavari had no time to prepare for something like the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub. The team created a disaster hotline with 48 IP-based phones and provided computer and internet access for families to reunite and receive support.

Back up and test

Beverly Hills, Calif., has built two backup data centers with redundant network connections so the critical applications, such as police and fire communications, could continue to operate during an emergency. The city also virtualized its servers, investing in multiple backup solutions.

Denton, Texas, near Dallas-Fort Worth, sees its share of tornadoes. The city updates its continuity of operations plan every year with city leaders and departments. Here is what is on their testing checklist:

  • Perform a risk assessment and business impact analysis to prioritize applications and services
  • Discuss expected service levels
  • Determine the recovery point objective—the amount of data that can be lost
  • Determine the recovery time objective—the length of time applications can be down

The city’s IT department also runs monthly exercises with different departments. One in particular involves taking live applications and restoring them from backup.

A good BCDR plan requires a combination of people, processes and technology, according to Phil Goodwin, IDC’s research director for data protection, availability and recovery.

IT organizations need to create a game plan and cross-train their teams to manage a variety of tasks so that applications and services remain available in emergencies or to bring them back online.

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Last modified: November 6, 2019