Technology Lessons from Hurricane Harvey

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The following was published in today’s Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

The devastation to Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey is truly heartbreaking. The news reports continue to tell a story that is unfolding moment by moment. I have colleagues, family and friends in harm’s way and I am so grateful to know that they are all safe.

My cousin, Jonathan Siger is a rabbi in the Houston area and a chaplain to the local sheriff’s department. Watching his videos from the rescue boats and hearing the scene’s he has been on, brings a very different perspective to what we see and hear on the news. I hope by the time this article is published on Sunday Texas and Louisiana will have emerged from the storm and that things will be improving. They will need a lot of patience and support as they work to rebuild their communities.

The outpouring of support and inflow of donations is showing the best of what this nation can muster. I’ve seen so many initiatives, even within my own IT industry. CompTIA, the global IT trade association, has launched an initiative encouraging all of its corporate and individual members to make a donation to hurricane relief and CompTIA will match $2 for every $1 donated up to $200,000. You can participate by going to http://bit.ly/CompTIACares and entering CompTIA as the company to match.

HarveyOpsLeading up the arrival of Hurricane Harvey, technology companies across Texas were issuing recommendations to safeguard the digital assets of an organization. Cloud computing has played a major part in ensuring business continuity throughout the storm. This was mainly accomplished through having company data safely backed up to the Cloud. However, as more and more companies move applications and in some cases, entire infrastructures to the Cloud, these businesses are able to maintain complete operational effectiveness through something as catastrophic as a hurricane.

This does not mean there were not challenges. Certainly, the widespread loss of power and the heavy flooding impacted people’s ability to work. The cellular networks were stretched to their breaking point, but held in most cases. I have been in touch with colleagues in the greater Houston area and they have all made it through thus far. Most have suffered water in their homes and needed to evacuate. Fortunately, of the people I have been able to contact or get updates on, their businesses have not experienced any catastrophic losses of data.

The key to being able to bring your business through an event like this is planning. The last thing you want to do is figure out a plan while the storm is bearing down on you. As I already mentioned, backing up your data to the Cloud is a must. When you can leverage the Cloud to actually run your business applications and even your critical infrastructure, you are that much better prepared. Be sure your most critical infrastructure components are attached to Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS), which will provide backup power should the power go out and most importantly, properly shut those infrastructure items down should the battery run low. All other computing devices should be connected to surge suppressors. Many people do not realize the restoration of power can be as much of a threat as the loss of power. I have seen situations where building and individual pieces of equipment have caught fire when power was restored after a sudden power loss. UPS and proper surge suppression will protect against this in almost all cases.

Obviously, if you are facing the risk of flooding, you want to secure as many of your electronics away from likely locations susceptible to flooding. This isn’t always possible, but sometimes even just moving computers away from window areas can make a big difference.

Even though I am focusing on technology, don’t forget about your low-tech assets too. If you are maintaining paper files of any value, be sure you have a plan for them. While I would recommend you scan all important documents and store them electronically, I know nearly all businesses still keep some of their critical data in paper form. Be sure you have a plan to secure those files before a storm hits. Consider watertight storage containers, even if just to see them through the storm.

While you may have your data and your critical applications covered, don’t forget that you need to think about how your team will function if they are not able to get to the office and also, if they have to leave their homes. In some cases, it just won’t be possible to work for several days. I experienced that this week, with one of my clients who has an office in Houston. They were able to get back in to their office and all of the preparation steps we recommended, including shutting everything down, paid off. We were able to help them remotely bring everything back online and they are fully functional.

Throughout the storm, they maintained communication with their entire team, so staff knew when it was safe to return to the office and get back to work. Hopefully, you have a plan like this for your business. If you don’t, put one together now.

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