Hurricane Irene: Checklist for protecting your technology

What to do before and during your hurricane


Hurricane forecasting is becoming less of a black art, but for the large populations of us living in the Gulf or East Coast (you may get it one day, California and Left Coasters and Islanders). If you don't have an official list of what to do for your technology life, here are some of my suggestions - taken at your own risk, of course.

1. Time to do backups This means all of your servers, all of your clients, all of your mobile devices. Back them up to the web, but in any case, ship the backup media to dry ground, and label everything. Your ability to restart may depend on replacement hardware and the ability to rapidly restore.

2. Document the layout You've changed everything since you last did this. Get all of the network addresses, the router and firewall configurations. Get all of the CA certificates and back them up 2x, then ship the media to your office in Nebraska. Now.

3. Update call lists and contact info All key personnel need to register their updated cell numbers, Twitter IDs, home email addresses, physical addresses, automobile license tag #s, and so forth. Put these copies into an encrypted PDF and distribute it without the password; release the password through some pre-shared agreement. See your legal department for advice on the privacy nature of the entries in the list.

4. Tame your vendors Steps #1 through 3 must be performed by your key vendors. Supply chain, contractors, everyone needs to be on the updated list as required and subject to organizational policies where they apply.

5. Test your hot site Do this now, before you need it. Check to see that equipment is available, routes to the hotsite are established, key personnel know the drill, fail-over equipment is running, hot, and ready to fire if primary sites go down or away.

6. Leave before you need to Don't get stuck in traffic, in airports, train stations, and in queues. Give yourself ample time. Buy lots of bottled water and granola bars, emergency kits, spare charged batteries, flashlights, and so forth. Do the Boy Scout thing and be prepared but carry it lightly.

7. Move out means move back If you go offsite to a hot site, you'll need to eventually come back and restart a data center or NOC, etc. Know the procedure, drill, key personnel, who makes the decision to rollback based on what policies and values, and have this information distributed to all of the key personnel. Make a roster, and have someone in charge of the roster to understand key personnel and alternate key personnel availability. Keep maps of where personnel are located digitally, so that when routes are re-opened, you can guess time to availability given traffic constraints.

8. Include public information contact and link safety information everywhere Know the jurisdictions, know the hospitals, emergency response personnel, how to stay out of their way, and what information is key in case of emergency. Know how to turn on and off all utilities, the names and contact info for utility and public service authorities and dispatchers. Stay calm. Be brief. Have your info ready when contacting them.

9. Test backup networking devices, and devise alternate routes Understand the critical communications paths and test them. I've seen companies run basic communications (mostly email and credit card authorizations) using a single tethered cellphone on 3G. It's ugly, slow, and it works. It's probably too late right now to have developed a method to use alternate communications links if you don't have them; remember this for the next time if communications is critical to your organization's success through weather events.

10. Backup everything Yes, this is #1 all over again. Ensure that you have backed up everything, every configuration, every tech device in the fleet. Move that media to guaranteed-safe storage, start this now. You'll be glad you did. If you have time, check the ability to restore data, too.

This Spring Break, we drove to Gulfport Mississippi, and looked at the rebuilding that's been done after Katrina. Your hurricane will hopefully be much milder. Today there are beautiful sandy beaches. And there are still huge swaths of the coast from Alabama through Louisiana that still bear the marks of that devastating set of events. Some survived, but many businesses are gone. Be prepared for "gone" by ensuring your survival if the worst happens. Barring that, find a few good paperbacks and a box of candles, and a spare charged cellphone battery. And patience.

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