Four steps to help your IT team when disaster strikes

IT leaders who have been through disasters have rethought what to include in business-continuity plans. Their plans include alternative uses for technology and practical emergency-preparedness measures designed to keep employees cared-for during a crisis.

1. Have at least two alternatives for paying employees during an emergency when normal operating data might be inaccessible, says Martin Gomberg, CIO of A&E Television Networks. Options include rerunning a prior payroll cycle at a backup site or offering a fixed amount of money to everyone and making up the difference later, he says.

2. If you do business in a place where the telecommunications infrastructure is under government control or subject to outages, configure some satellite phones, advises Sonya Christian, CIO of West Georgia Health. Christian was running IT at Slidell Memorial Hospital in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and she wishes she’d had sat phones then. Now she includes them in her disaster toolbox. “We maintain them year-round to be available during storm season,” she says.  

3. Prepare to use internal Web sites to keep in touch with employees if cell service is out, says Lon Anderson, vice president of corporate IT at ICF International, a technology services firm. Anderson was a senior IT leader at Hibernia National Bank in Louisiana, which used a Web application that became a hub for employees and customers after Hurricane Katrina hit. Ask news sites to publish the Web addresses to get the word out.

4. Certify as many staff members as possible in emergency-response training, including how to respond to shock, perform CPR and treat exhaustion, Christian advises. Have a second disaster-management team ready to relieve the first responders soon into the emergency, to alleviate physical and emotional fatigue, she adds.

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