Painful lessons learned from crises in 2005 include the importance of communications and picturing the very worst scenarios that might occur. These issues were the hot topics of a panel discussion held Tuesday at IBM's PartnerWorld conference here.
"It's important to imagine the unimaginable," Dr. Dale Nordenberg, associate director for informatics and chief information officer at the National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID), said. "Who'd have thought we'd evacuate two major U.S. cities within a month last year?"
In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, companies in Louisiana didn't foresee that they'd be without wireline and wireless telecommunications and power for long periods of time, according to Chad LeMaire. He's chief executive officer of IBM business partner CMA Technology Solutions, which has its headquarters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
When drawing up disaster recovery plans, companies need to start taking what they consider basic services like phones and electricity out of the equation and see how they'd cope, LeMaire said. With no phone service after the hurricanes, firms were unable to find the employees they'd originally tasked to enact their disaster recovery plans.
A key piece of advice he offered companies is to commit to hold a conference call for employees 12 hours after a disaster occurs, ensuring that the call is accessible from area codes outside the affected area.
Getting computers back up and running was easier than finding employees after the hurricanes hit, according to LeMaire. How does a company plan for the possibility that some staff, having lost everything in the storms, suddenly choose to move away forever, he asked. Firms need to factor individual viewpoints into their recovery plans and take into consideration how a disaster may affect the psyche of their employees, LeMaire said.
"The first thing to happen when people are overwhelmed by an event is that they stop communicating," Nordenberg, a medical doctor at NICD said. Organizations need to have the capabilities to drop ready-to-go communications and collaboration tools into a disaster area as well as come up with ways to encourage those affected by the disaster to quickly re-engage in dialogue.
Nordenberg called on large technology companies including IBM to come together and pool their technical knowledge to create communications and collaboration systems that could be used by small to midsize businesses (SMBs) and individuals in the event of a disaster.
In a brief conversation after the debate, Nordenberg said he's beginning to talk to some IT firms about such a project, although he did not name any of the companies.