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Disaster recovery planning must take all angles into account

For a group of IT professionals disaster planning and recovery has now taken on a new meaning. More important than data recovery is ensuring you have the people to implement the plan in the first place.
Written by Debra Donston, Contributor

"If your data's off-site, halfway across the country, it's safe. But what do I do if my IT department is wiped out?" said Kevin Baradet, network systems director at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, and an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "Most data recovery plans account for the loss of a facility and not the catastrophic loss of people."

Baradet, like several other Corporate Partners contacted for their reactions to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, said disaster recovery plans are meaningless if they don't account for an organisation's people.

Robert Rosen, director of information management at the US Army Research Laboratory, in Adelphi, Md., acknowledged that it's tough to think in these terms but added that it's critical that organisations plan for the worst.

"The people are the most critical issue, and organizations have not thought through all the different aspects associated with the people when something like this happens," Rosen said. "In some sense it seems cold, but in terms of keeping your business operational, it's what you've got to do."

Tom Miller, a senior director of IS in Santa Clara, California, said Tuesday's events put the concepts of business continuity planning--prevention, response, resumption, recovery and restoration--into better perspective.

"I think this has caused everybody to step back, to revisit their business continuity plans, to think about how they make arrangements for potential loss of people," Miller said. "Many companies may not be able to afford some of the solutions. It's risk--it's like buying insurance in some ways."

In the wake of the mass confusion that framed the suicide jetliner attacks, many of the Corporate Partners also realized just how important it is to have a means for accounting for personnel.

"When something like this happens, how do you know the status of your staff?" said the Army Research Lab's Rosen. "We had people in the Pentagon, and we had people travelling. You need to have a plan in place if there's a disaster, so you know where people are."

While it was difficult to contact colleagues, friends and family via land lines and mobile phones, email was a consistent communications media.

Baradet, for one, was thankful for an email that let him know a friend who works for a major brokerage in New York had made it safely out of Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex. "My friend saw both planes hit. He bolted from the building and was showered with debris and bodies. Email was getting through even though calls weren't. That's how I got the message from my friend."

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