Hurricanes Wilma, Katrina And Rita Force Businesses To Rethink Computer

With hurricane Wilma bearing down and the effects of hurricane Katrina, now being cited as the single most expensive natural disaster in the history of the United States with a direct cost estimated at a $ 100 billion, still fresh in our minds, businesses are being forced to rethink their computer system and data recovery policies.

Of the catastrophic damage caused by hurricane Katrina, some estimate the insured damage to be only about $ 12.5 billion. Over a million non-agricultural jobs have been jeopardized by Katrina’s devastation with more than half of these in New Orleans itself. With the business infrastructure of the New Orleans area so gravely damaged and recovering so slowly, businesses are beginning to rethink their ability to survive a natural disaster of Katrina’s, Rita’s and now Wilma’s magnitude or the grim possibility of a terrorist attack. Was the chaos that ensued after hurricane Katrina due to the absence of a sound recovery disaster plan?

“The problem with the Katrina disaster was not necessarily the lack of a plan. In fact, the US government, the State government and the local government all had very good plans. The problem was that they were not implemented,” says David Russo, President of Independent Network Consultants of Crofton, Maryland, (, an IT services company that assists businesses in creating their own disaster recovery plans.

“That is why, in formulating a disaster plan, we try to make sure that all the senior management are involved and are on board to implement the plan if the disaster actually strikes. This understanding has to trickle down to all the appropriate levels of the business.”

“A disaster plan, in part, is a laundry list of resources for use in a disaster. For instance, a disaster plan for one of my clients calls for two separate T1 lines. These telephone lines actually have two separate physical routes so that, in the case of a disaster, one line will always be working if the other is compromised.”

“So let’s say that certain lines of this phone system may be down while others are still working. But, if a worker wasn’t aware of that, after picking up a phone or two, he might assume that the entire system was down- unless he knew!”

“Even if the worker knew the phones were working, he must also know what the priorities are and, if contacting someone is necessary, he must know whom to call. When he calls, he must ask for what he needs and he must count on the recipient to also know what can and must be delivered. Time is short in a disaster.”

“In the case of the hurricane Katrina disaster, some of the confusion caused by lack of an informed team, can be seen in the situation revolving around the failure to utilize local school buses in the New Orleans evacuation. While there may be plenty of blame to be assigned…, there are some valuable lessons to be drawn from the event. It is a clear example of a disaster plan being there to draw from, but not being implemented,” commented Russo.

According to the State disaster plan, Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan of January 2000, “The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating.”

According to Mayor Nagin’s famous interview on WWL, the New Orleans radio station that stayed on the air during the disaster, “I need reinforcements. I need troops, man. I need five hundred buses, man.” When referring to the suggestion by some to have public school drivers come to New Orleans to help evacuate, Mayor Nagin exclaimed “…you gotta be kidding me! This is a national disaster! Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get…moving to New Orleans! …”

Regardless of who is to blame, many rightly raised questions: Why couldn’t the State provide assistance? Why weren’t the National Guard sent in to commandeer those buses? Why was the Mayor talking about Greyhound instead of talking about the school buses he had planned to use for immediate assistance?

Despite Senator Mary Landrieu’s claims that the buses were flooded, when questioned by newscaster, Chris Wallace, she could not adequately respond to the claim that the flooding occurred after the school buses were supposed to be used for evacuation. The main point, says Russo ( ) is ”Even though everyone needs a disaster recovery plan today, what’s the use of a plan if you don’t use it as a framework for action?”

These discrepancies, miscommunications and assignments of blame veil the simple facts. The State plan called for something and, when local resources failed – namely, the availability of local bus drivers, the State did not move in to assist. The Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan clearly states, “State transportation resources will be made available to assist local authorities in transporting special needs persons and persons who do not have their own transportation.”

Did the State help to man the buses? “It wasn’t done.” points out Russo. He goes on to say, “In a business, all senior management needs to be involved in the creation of the disaster recovery plan. All senior management needs to know what their role is in a business disaster and to delegate the appropriate role to those they supervise. Everyone needs to be on the same page. It doesn’t really matter who fails in a disaster, the consequences can be devastating. The important thing is that everybody knows and executes their role so that disaster recovery plans don’t go astray.”

“I don’t know who or why the buses were not used in the New Orleans bus situation but the failure of higher officials to fully know and execute their own plan is very obvious. It could be analogous to a business having a hot site in place, a secondary location for office equipment, furniture, computers and communication equipment, etc., and key personnel not knowing about this location or where it was; or, not having a backup system to make hard copies of data and losing all your company’s data; or, not having effective data storage backup on the Internet.”

Russo concluded, “No one can withstand a computer disaster these days. The responsibility for failure becomes academic after everything is lost. Our goal with our clients is always to minimize human failure and maximize recovery and backup. The disaster recovery business is important these days.”

A business disaster recovery plan and a government disaster recovery plan have many common components. They must include as much recovery planning as possible, they must be understood by all concerned, they must consist of real, available resources and there must be a system of delegation to people who in turn know what their role is. Even with all of this in most cases, one element is paramount, when disaster strikes, the workable parts of the backup disaster plan must be actually executed. To this end, the plan must be fully known and in the hands of capable people who will actually carry it out. Only this way can business continuity be safeguarded and restored in an emergency.

Bruce Prokopets

Executive Editor

Press Direct International