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Communications (41)

Thursday, 25 October 2007 22:53

Notification System Internal or External

Written by

When faced with an emergency or disaster, what is your notification system? If you are a tenant in a building, what is the building notification system? Do you and your staff understand it?

If you control your building, do you have a public address system that reaches all spaces. If not, does it have the capability of expanding to all spaces. Is it on auxiliary power? Are there also bells, sirens, a whistle, or horn alarms?

Can you turn lights on and off, to gain attention, of those with hearing difficulty. Do you have a buddy system for handicapped? Do you have multilingual announcements?

How is your PA system controlled, your telephone switchboard, managers office or your safety/security office? Is your staff trained to provide notifications to your facilities and to outside emergency responders? Can you isolate the system by floor, building or department?

Will you use code phrases, (i.e. "Mr. Red call your office") to activate floor wardens, without exciting other workers and customers? Will the public or the customers hear PA systems?

Have you assigned floor wardens? Will they have special communications equipment such as pagers, two way radios, and bull horns? Are they adequately "identified" to provide credibility (vests, armbands, and hardhats)?
Is your system set up to provide floor wardens with information and they pass it on to their area? Will information come over PA systems to everyone?

What is your building plan for evacuation? In San Francisco the high-rise strategy is to have building security notify the fire floor, the floor above and below, and to evacuate down four floors via PA system.

Always have your disaster/emergency plan coordinated with both your building and fire department. Also, ask them if you need to also coordinate with police and EMS in your locality.

In the event of an after-hours emergency, do you have a plan for asking the media to have employees of "xyz corporation" call the neighboring corporate facility (such as the Sacramento office of xyz corporation) for instructions and information? Do you have branch offices that could activate and take calls?

Does your preparedness plan and employee information strategy provide proper information for employees action if they are at home, where can they call if their facility is not operational?

We tell families they should plan to have an out-of-town contact and instruct all the family members to call "Aunt Suzie" if they get separated. Who is your corporate out of town contact?

Have you reviewed your employee emergency information material? How often is your Emergency/Disaster notification list reviewed? How many copies are prepared and who is on the distribution list, such as: CEO, telephone switchboard, security, emergency planners, alternate site managers, switch board manager, etc.?

Have you talked to your telephone system provider, about alternate communication sites/systems, call forwarding or an 800 number for employees and customers? Does your telephone system have adequate auxiliary power? Are there "reset" buttons? Have you included the phone number of all pay phones at your facility in your disaster plan? The only way to get those numbers is to copy them off the phones themselves. If your phone system is knocked out, pay phones maybe your alternate communication system.

When calling pagers, it is important to know there are three types of responses. The first is a multiple beep/busy signal. The second, a one beep, is a voice pager. The third type, a three beep is a display pager, where you can dial in your phone number for a call back.

Have you done a survey of your employees to see if any are amateur "HAM" radio operators? Do they have radios at work, or in their car? Plan on integrating them into your emergency system.

Do not procrastinate, if you have a disaster plan, review it and see these "notification" ideas are included. If you do not have a plan, contact your local American Red Cross and ask for the free "Emergency Management Guide of Business and Industry" ARC 5025. This could be a starting place for you.

Pete Ashen is the Red Cross Volunteer Disaster Administrator in San Francisco, Calif.

This article adapted from V8#2.

Thursday, 25 October 2007 22:51

Information Technology For Emergency Management

Written by

Until recently (maybe 10 years ago), advanced information technologies were simply not available to emergency managers.

When disaster struck, lives and property hung in the balance while we tried desperately to keep up with events using pushpins, grease pencils, and clipboards. It was often a losing battle.

Today, of course, things have changed. We have been engulfed by the Information Revolution. Powerful new computer and communications systems are being introduced into our lives daily, and a number of which claim to support emergency management.

This sudden wealth of options, however, has not laid the technology issue to rest for emergency managers. Instead it has stirred up a whole new set of challenges.

How can you select a system or systems best suited to meet all of your needs? How can you be sure that the technology will perform if a crisis strikes today? How can you tell if it will grow to meet your future needs?

Even for those in the business of coping with death and destruction, these questions can prove intimidating.
I have spent many years discussing these topics with thousands of emergency professionals throughout the world.

Gradually, I have distilled from their comments the following checklist of attributes for an ideal emergency information system:

Thursday, 25 October 2007 22:48

How To Avoid A Second Disaster- In Communications

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How will your customers react if your business suffers a disaster? What will your employees do? If the event is newsworthy, how will the headlines read? Answering those questions before a disaster occurs may prevent a second disaster for your business — a communications crisis.

Experience tells us that if management doesn’t take control of the information process during a crisis, it’s at the mercy of outside interests, rumor and speculation. Either the company or someone out of its control is going to “take the microphone” to tell the story of what happened and what is being done about it.

In the long run, a company’s most lasting image often is formed by the way it handles bad news. Months after Hurricane Andrew, stories still are being written about companies that acted quickly to recover business operations and get help to their customers, employees and communities — and were prepared to state what actions they were taking.

Because doing business today requires immediate access to vast amounts of information, planning for information system (I/S) disasters is a crucial part of advance preparations. More than ever, businesses can not operate without their data capabilities. Globalization, company consolidations, the focus on core competencies — all have increased company dependence on I/S.

From its early beginnings as a research and education network, the Internet has undergone significant changes during the first half of the 1990's. Until the last few years, the Internet served mostly the academic and defense research communities.

Recently, however, there has been an enormous growth in the number of individual systems and inter-operating networks connected to the Internet. Commercial activities and the creation of the World Wide Web (WWW) are largely responsible for recent phenomenal growth rates. As the Internet population steadily increases, so to do network security threats.

A relatively new solution to these security problems is a firewall system. A firewall, in essence, is like a military compound. The compound is secure on its entire perimeter and has only one passage point.

The passage point is heavily protected by a guard who authenticates all who want to enter the compound. The passage point is the focus of administrative control. In war time, the guard may be more suspicious and heavily armed than in peace time.

The Disaster Recovery Practitioner's Resource

As originally conceived, the Internet was a technological revolution in information gathering and dissemination.

High-speed data links and packet switching allowed mail and file transfers between a small group of government and university computer systems. Today, the Internet is a global network connecting tens of thousands of computers and more than 30 million users throughout the world. Any Disaster Recovery Practitioner ('DRP') with access to a PC and a modem can now roam the Internet and gain access to literally thousands of sources of essential disaster recovery and risk management information.

With the World Wide Web ('WWW') at their fingertips, DRP's can call-up the Home Pages of organizations which provide valuable information ranging from earthquake preparedness to locating disaster relief agencies. DRP's can download vital information from these Home Pages to create and/or enhance their own contingency planning efforts. Using an Internet Browser, a DRP can access on-line Search Engines to drill-down to topics as specific as hot sites or sources of disaster recovery education. The Internet is truly an indispensable tool for any DRP.


Thursday, 25 October 2007 22:22

Lessons Learned

Written by

Observations by a Disaster Recovery Planning Consultant:  Some organizations overlook the
obvious as they build  and operate their information systems.

From the consultant's perspective, the ultimate objective of a disaster recovery planning engagement is to enhance the survivability of the client's business. Unfortunately, in the real world, things like money, turf, and politics intercede and the ultimate objective is not always accomplished. Therefore, fixing the 'little things' can go at least part of the way toward reducing the likelihood of an adverse event, or if one should occur, minimizing the consequences and facilitating a smooth recovery.

Tape Backup and Storage

One of the keys to any disaster recovery capability is to have a current backup of critical programs and data that can be used in the event of a disaster. This is such an obvious component of a recovery strategy that many people simply dismiss it as a concern because it is too obvious. However, as mid-range and minicomputers have proliferated and migrated from the data center to the offices of the enterprise, the obvious is sometimes ignored by business managers who are not experienced in protecting computing resources.

Whether or not you're a fan of the Internet, it's a fact of life that can't be ignored. Every day brings announcements of new functions, more players and emerging opportunities. Some experts have gone so far as to predict that the Internet will be the single most important factor in the world economy.

Analysts predict that by the year 2000 some $11.5 billion in annual transactions will be conducted via global electronic commerce. Already some three-quarters of large and midsize companies have World Wide Web or Internet access. And with an average of 100 new World Wide Web servers going on-line each day, the 'information superhighway' is fast becoming one of society's most pervasive forces.

Yet along with its promise and vast potential, this 'network of networks' poses significant security risks from intrusions and viruses through unprotected connections. Corporate resources may be at risk from corporate spies stealing information or thieves modifying records for financial gain. Viruses can interfere with the workings of the networks and systems, even bring them to a halt. Data segments may be erased, programs disabled and gigabytes of data wiped out. Recovery may be complicated and costly. Days, weeks, years of work, can be lost.

The Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute (CMU/SEI) in Pittsburgh, a clearing house for Internet security episodes, had reports of nearly 3,000 Internet break-ins in 1995. According to a survey initiated by the Senate's Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, major banks and other large corporations incurred an estimated $800 million loss last year because of hacker intrusions into their computer systems.

Businesses are concerned about the security risks and rightly so. Internet security cannot be taken for granted. The good news is that there is hardware, software, consulting and services to help companies secure their information technology. Vendors provide the expertise required to plan, design, implement and operate secure solutions for businesses. These offerings are designed to substantially reduce the risk to users involved in Internet access. Companies will be able to connect to the Internet with more confidence in the security and privacy of their transactions.

The offerings, ranging from firewall gateways to scanning tools to full function emergency response services, can address individual needs or provide total enterprise solutions to help companies secure their information technology.

Firewall gateways stand between a corporate network and the Internet acting as a traffic cop. Wanted transmissions are permitted, dangerous transmissions are rejected or blocked.

Emergency response services augment a company's expertise in Internet security to avoid intrusion emergencies, and usually include, a computer emergency response team or CERT, which responds in the event of a break-in.
CERTS had their roots at Carnegie Mellon's SEI in 1989 in the wake of the Robert Tappan Morris worm. The CMU CERT broadly assisted Internet sites to defend themselves against intrusions and capture statistics on the nature and number of attacks, akin to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. However, as those with malicious intent became increasingly more persistent and sophisticated in attacking Internet vulnerabilities, it became evident that every institution would benefit from its own CERT in addition to a central clearing house.

For example, IBM created its internal CERT in 1989 and has dealt with intrusion attempts and virus incidents for eight years. IBM's Emergency Response Service for customers, initiated last year, offers incident management, periodic electronic verification, tailored alerts and workshops to provide full-time intrusion detection expertise.

The subscription service is intended for major corporations who are connecting their internal networks to the Internet. These companies choose to retain the privacy and security of their corporate networks, while capitalizing on the value of accessing the more open Internet. The external ERS gives the company the depth of experience from a team that deals with Internet intrusions daily. All incidents are treated as strictly confidential.

As more and more users access the Internet and other global networks, the possibility of acquiring a computer virus is greater. Computer viruses have become an ongoing, worldwide problem. In most cases, their origin is unknown. There are now more than 8,000 known computer viruses; that number is increasing by three to five new viruses every day. An enormous range and variety of products and services are now available that provide an anti-virus solution for companies.

IBM Anti-Virus software, for example, offers both a Desktop and Enterprise Edition that provide support for multiple operating systems.

The products mentioned briefly here and others, too numerous to mention, help to ensure that a business will continue to run without disruption. Companies of all sizes can feel more confident about opening up their businesses to the world of global computing without opening the door to disaster.

Alan Fedeli is manager of IBM's worldwide computer emergency response team. Steven Rosenblatt is worldwide segment manager for IBM AntiVirus.

This article adapted from Vol. 9#3.

Thursday, 25 October 2007 22:14

Adding Disaster Tolerance to Computing Systems

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A disaster tolerant computing system is one that can continue to provide application availability and data access in the presence of a major catastrophe such as a fire, earthquake or bombing. There are two kinds of disaster tolerance one must consider when designing a system; local and remote. Local disaster tolerance is usually associated with a site-specific natural disaster such as a fire or inadvertent activation of a sprinkler system. Remote disaster tolerance typically refers to natural and man-made catastrophes, including, fires, earthquakes and terrorist activities.

To achieve disaster tolerance - local or remote - there must be an alternative computing component that continues to function in the presence of the failure. Thus, redundancy is a fundamental prerequisite for a system that either recovers from or masks failures. Redundancy can be provided in two very different ways called passive redundancy and active redundancy, each with very different consequences.

On February 8, 1996 the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law, providing the first major overhaul of telecommunications legislation in over 60 years. The law addresses a wide range of communications segments including local and long-distance telephone service, equipment manufacturing, electronic publishing, cable television and broadcast entertainment. Under Section 707 of the Telcom Act there is a 'Telecommunications Development Fund' that is created to provide loans and advice to companies with less than $50 million in annual revenues to encourage new companies wanting to enter the telecommunication business. While the intent of the legislation is to quickly bring new telecommunication services and higher quality at a lower cost to the consumer, there are pitfalls that business continuity planners need to be aware of.
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