Magazine article Government Finance Review

The Information Technology Role in Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

Magazine article Government Finance Review

The Information Technology Role in Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

Article excerpt

Governments, and particularly IT departments, need detailed disaster recovery plans and business continuity plans in order to ensure the continuity of government services during critical disaster times.

When disaster happens, who is in charge in your city, county, or school? Depending on the severity of a disaster, different areas and groups of employees are affected; however, the information technology department should be among a government's first responders, because it must be ready on a moment's notice to activate a pre-determined alternate site if normal facilities become unavailable.

Disasters can be as small as a few flooded offices, a fire that destroys a room or building, or even a labor dispute, or they can be as extensive as hurricanes or tornadoes. Disasters that shut down a government's mission critical applications for any length of time could have devastating direct and indirect costs to the government and its economy For these kinds of disasters, a disaster recovery and business continuity plan essential.1

The first steps the IT department should take depend on how seriously a disaster affects resources. Does it require a few desktops and a room off site to provide a temporary recovery solution? Or does a larger plan need to be activated to move PCs and servers to a "hot site" to restore entire applications and set up temporary work facilities for a limited number of key workers to operate until normalcy is restored?

But what good does it do for IT to restore applications and data if there is no one there to run things? It is only half the solution, albeit the first half.The second half is the contact information for the business continuity piece. Recovering from disaster is less a solution than a process. Governments must take control of their own destinies. In the event of a disaster, a core team of people across all departments is typically designated to continue business operations pending the restoration of a normal work environment. These people need accurate information with which to call on IT and on vendors for technical support or to report to work at a temporary site.

BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLANNING

One of the most basic steps is backing up.Turning a light switch off and on is a common everyday occurrence. Just as frequently, IT should be backing up all the data and applications and storing the tapes off site in a secure environment. Tapes should never remain on site longer than one or two business days. A secure facility with environmental controls and a method for transporting tapes off site, as well as returning them if restoration of corrupted data is needed, is as critical to any government data center as health insurance is to an individual.

In addition to regular tape backup activity a disaster recovery (DR) "bible" is an essential source of information. The DR bible is a reference book in which you compile all the information necessary to put a recovery plan in place. This includes technical documentation, contact information for critical IT staff, and process documentation. The book should be written specifically for your current work environment, tested at least annually, and updated as often as every three months. Copies of it should be kept off site as a backup, just as with any other critical data.

Technical documentation in the DR bible should include specific start-up instructions for each application and a list of any processes to run jobs on a daily basis. Sometimes steps must be followed sequentially to restore the data off site, which occurs because full backups are only done on a weekly basis with incremental backups done nightly in between the weekly backup process. The DR bible should also contain copies of the applications themselves.

The DR bible also should contain contact information for all of the people, both internal and external, who are essential to keep IT running. That includes home and cell phone numbers or other contact information for all IT people involved as well as key vendors such as equipment and service providers. …

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