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Spring Journal

Volume 32, Issue 1

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A fire in your main power switch room! Loss of electricity to over 65 percent of your facility! Evacuation of patients and staff, and loss of communication systems! Is your hospital prepared for this kind of event? This is what Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital (CRCH) had to cope with when a fire broke out. As disasters go, this was a relatively minor event. However, it could have had a major impact on this hospital had they not been prepared and fortunate enough to have their sister hospital, Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital (CRMH), a mile away. Reviewing what happened, how hospital employees reacted and what lessons they learned from this event can help other hospitals and healthcare systems prepare for their own disasters.

The fire started at approximately 3:45 p.m. in the boiler room of the East wing of CRCH in the main power switch room. As a result, communication systems were lost immediately. While the fire alarms did go off, there was no way to communicate the location of the fire or to place an external call to the fire department. The resourceful switchboard operator found a cellular phone and called 911. The fire was extinguished within one-half hour and physical damage to the building was minimal. The fire department, however, had to cut the main electrical feed to contain the fire. In addition, toxic smoke filled most of the East wing of the hospital which houses the operating rooms. While the fire was the initial disaster, the loss of electricity, including emergency generators, had a more disruptive and lengthy impact. The end result was a loss of hot water, steam, phones, HVAC, elevators, the switchboard, and the paging system.

Two-thirds of the hospital, including patient rooms, OR, ER, pharmacy, lab paging, x-ray and food services, closed.

Nowhere in today's computer dependent world is the need for continuous operation more relevant and acute than in the arena of 9-1-1 emergency dispatch services. Dot com companies may suffer a hiccup in revenue, and B2B businesses may worry about customer satisfaction, yet at any given moment, on any given day, your life may depend on the operational integrity of a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. Unfortunately, the trust you may have in your community's system may be misplaced, as was the case in January 1999, in New York City. At the moment of greatest need, the City's CAD suffered a momentary disruption in service. As a result, a citizen of the Big Apple died.

This true story illustrates that 9-1-1 systems are so important that they establish the yardstick for measuring the value and utility of fault-tolerant and system availability technology. Moreover, fault-tolerant and system availability technologies that satisfy the demands of emergency dispatch systems will represent the standard for e-commerce, factory automation, stock trading and other mundane applications.

Offsite storage and protection of vital records is an important aspect of business continuity planning. Vital records can be defined as irreplaceable records that can only be replaced after significant effort, expense and delay. This article describes important considerations related to the safety of vital records and the evaluation of offsite storage alternatives.


Vital records can include several media such as:

  • Paper documents
  • Disks
  • Microfilm
  • Cassettes
  • Microfiche
  • CD ROMs
  • Optical disk
  • DVDs
  • Magnetic tapes
  • Photographic material
  • Other media

Over the past several years, through merger, acquisition and new services, U.S. Bancorp has grown into the nation's 11th largest bank holding company. Along the way, however, those charged with business continuity for the bank began to realize the old methods of continuity planning were not going to effectively meet the needs of the new organization.

Information is a Valuable Asset.

It may seem obvious, but occasionally management needs to be reminded that information is a valuable asset and must be protected as such. This is especially apparent when presented with a business continuation plan. Often the cost of disaster preparedness causes management to forget what they are required to protect!

According to Contingency Planning Research, the average impact of computer downtime costs a retail brokerage $6.45 million per hour. A credit card sales authorization company loses $2.6 million per hour. Most companies value 100 megabytes of data at more than a million dollars. Forty-three percent of lost or stolen data is valued at five million dollars.