As Chair of the University Business Continuity Operations Group, I'm always interested to hear other peoples experiences of dealing with incidents. In recent years I've been to presentations on how Universities coped after hurricane Katrina, floods, and forest fires. This year it was the turn of the hurricane. Yesterday I went to a session given by two Universities, about 150 miles apart which explained how they'd dealt with the effects of a hurricane which had passed right over one University, and the other was on the edge of it.
Both had evacuated all staff and students from the University campus, and both had suffered serious flood and storm damage. One had reopened after two weeks, the other had relocated all their classes to another campus over 100 miles away (can you imagine the logistics of that).
In terms of IT, the University at the centre of the storm had closed systems down and sent all staff home. The other had kept systems running for as long as possible, and 3 IT systems staff had volunteered to stay on campus to monitor things and had "hunkered down" with the campus securty staff. Volunteers to do that if a hurricane every hits Sheffield? Apparently they provided some pretty good reports of what it was like.
Some useful lessons from their experiences. Have a communication plan - relocate your web service if you can but don't underestimate the length of time it can take for ISPs to recognise DNS changes. The mobile phone network becomes jammed almost immediately - they used texts but they sent several out which didn't arrive sequentially - leading to confusion. Get good links with your local news media - local rdio and TV. Have good shut down and start up procedures for servers and virtualise where you can. Move services to the cloud if possible, and be aware that not critical services can become critical. For example, they had determined that their accommodation system was not critical and shut it down, but when they had to move students to housing at another campus, they needed it.
Some of the pictures they showed of what the campus looked like were pretty horrendous - the door to their machine room covered in mud, boats which had been lifted by the storm surge and deposited in the middle of the campus. A good sessions, and one of the things I will take away from it is that you need strategic plans - not tactical ones. "Planning is everything, the plan is nothing".
I thought I'd share with you a picture of the giant blue bear which peers into the Denver Convention Centre, looking as if he's trying to get in. He's cute!