Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Emergency Planning

Business Continuity is a hot topic with us at the moment - not just for us as an IT and business service department, but across the University. We've had a few near disasters - last June Sheffield was badly flooded - and some real ones, such as the recent power failure. Every year the University holds a simulation of a possible disaster - so far we've burnt a major teaching building down, killed a few students on a field trip, coped with a possible terrorist attack, and had a major outbreak of an infectious disease. They're always good fun, but terrifying, especially as the consultants who run them engineer the situation so that just when you think things can't get any worse, they do. We also run them in CiCS, and have just completed our latest one which had 3 different scenarios - an outbreak of "bird-flu ", a fire affecting our main data centre, and serious damage to one of our main network cables. As always, this exercise has produced a list of recommendations which we're currently working through - one of which asks us to ensure that we manage customer expectations of what will be possible, and advises that although it's very nice to have the reputation of miracle workers, we need to make sure that we're not expected to actually work them!

That reminds me of a Business Continuity Plan I was asked to comment on a couple of years ago which listed a number of scenarios, and responses. The scenario, "complete loss of all network and systems" had the response "send an email to all staff to let them know what to do."

I've been to a number of presentations on emergency planning - some of the most memorable a couple of years ago in the States. At that time The University of Central Florida had been hit by 3 hurricanes in 8 weeks, and the Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge had been seriously affected by Hurricane Katrina - which certainly puts our floods into perspective!

Although we have good plans and procedures in place, we still have a lot of work to do, especially around maintaining the continuity of teaching and research in the event of a major incident hitting the University.

No comments: