Revisiting corporate disaster plans
By Lee Copeland, Carol Sliwa, and Matt Hamblen
(IDG) -- The perceived threat of terrorist attacks is prompting many United States companies to augment their disaster-recovery plans with crisis-management maneuvers, according to attendees at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.
Among these new concerns are proximity to potential terrorist targets -- such as large government offices or power-producing facilities -- as well as the psychological impact on employees and the long-term physical impediments to conducting normal business operations.
These variables are encouraging many companies' officials to revisit their disaster-recovery plans and make sure their strategies include long-term, IT-based and manual crisis-management imperatives, said analysts at the conference's disaster recovery town meeting.
Ron Stephenson, vice president of information systems research and development at Downey Savings and Loan Association in Newport Beach, California, said federal regulations dictate that his company back up all of its systems. So his company, he said, has done a good job of focusing on systems and software in plotting a disaster-recovery plan.
In fact, the company has its own disaster-recovery site, he said, about 65 miles from Newport Beach, where a mainframe serves as a fully functioning backup for the main systems running out of headquarters.
"We back up everything. Everything," Stephenson said. "The tapes are picked up every day and stored off-site." But after the meeting, Stephenson said he recognized the need to "focus more on the people first."
"We have processes to get data from one place to another, but if you can't get the people over there, the data and the software doesn't do any good," Stephenson said. "I'm going to go back and talk with our CIO and work with management and see what we can come up with," he said, adding, "It's the nontechnical things that I think need to be completely revisited."
Stephenson pointed out, for instance, that the Federal Reserve Bank has a cash vault in downtown Los Angeles. In the event of an earthquake or some other disaster, getting cash to his savings and loan's ATM machines could be a challenge, he said.
Some users worried that the sheer proximity to potential terrorists targets could present a danger to normal business operations.
David Creekmore, director of IT at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said the company is rethinking its crisis preparedness and cited the company's location as a concern. The Washington-based broadcasting company is located across the street from an FBI building, prompting Creekmore to consider moving back-up IT systems off-site, he said.
"We always had something in place," said Creekmore. "But now we're thinking about extended disruptions, people evacuation plans and beefing up our backup abilities."
Establishing a means to communicate with dispersed staff prior to a crisis should also be a priority, said Rich Mogul, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. Mogul and other Gartner analysts suggested setting up communication protocols, such as emergency corporate Web sites, where workers can check in, and pre-assigned 800 phone numbers for emergency contacts.
One CIO at a Boston-based financial services company said he was worried about whether he would be required to pay for software copies to run systems in his disaster recovery hot site, since it's a duplicate and wouldn't be used except when daily-use servers are down.
He said he had seen that some software companies weren't charging for this capability and that he wasn't sure what the result would be at the time he finally signed an agreement. "I get the impression this is negotiable for some, but wasn't sure what the industry practice is," said the CIO, who asked not to be named because it might disclose the company's location.
Relying on older, concurrent license pricing plans, which would allow a user in a backup facility to use software at the same price when a primary facility was down, may be an option, said Donna Scott, a Gartner analyst. "This might not work with tier-based pricing," she added.
Another user suggested encouraging workers and employers to work together to beef up IT infrastructures that would make working from home easier. Giving employees the ability to work from home would allow businesses to continue operating despite an atmosphere of uncertainty, the user said.
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