Musings: Information Technology, emergencies only happen to other people

Watching the news coverage of hurricane Katrina was quite sobering. Think for a minute what it would mean to your life to live for thirty days without electricity, running water or, for so many, to be homeless.

Now apply this to your business. If your office is still standing, is it structurally sound and do you have access? One of the many images that captured my attention is the beautiful Hyatt Hotel in downtown New Orleans. It structurally survived the storm but every window was blown out.

Without running water, there is no water for drinking, food preparation or general sanitation. Without electricity none of your office systems will run. The remote servers, that are always running and allow access to your email and files from anywhere that you have Internet access, are not running or are underwater or both.

Do you have an emergency plan?

Most of my clients have heard me say this at least once - plan for the worst and hope for the best. And then if the worst does happen do as the U.S. Marines say, improvise, adapt, overcome.

If your place of business were to experience a storm, flood, fire, earthquake or critical server failure, what is your plan? If you did not have access to your data, would you be able to continue doing business? You may have insurance coverage that will replace any physical loss, but would your business survive permanent loss of your financial data, documents, reports, order tracking and other data?

For the hundreds of thousands of people who faced this daunting challenge, many survived and are thriving today. We live in a great country of community-centric people and emergency resources which are immediately in place and available to our citizens. And my wish for anyone reading this is that you will never be faced with a situation as devastating as living in the path of a hurricane such as Katrina, wildfires or oil rig explosions.

There are a few simple things that I encourage you to consider in order to preserve your personal and business data.

Have a data backup system in place.

A friend who recently experienced a system failure and subsequent permanent loss of data told me her new mantra is every day is a good day to backup.

For a home computer, it can be as simple as copying your files to disk and storing the disk in your home's fire and water proof safe. Your business data should be backed up everyday and a copy of the backup medium stored off site.

We count on our banks and other large institutions to keep our data safe. Here in Philadelphia in 1991 I was living two blocks from the high rise Meridian Bank fire. Since it was Sunday there were not many people in town, which made the scene even eerier. Later in the day there was a power outage in the area, the air was filled with smoke, the fire escape tower in my building was also in blackout and we were unable to evacuate. It was a very frightening experience.

In the end what amazed me the most, even though firefighters lost their lives fighting the fire, the bank did not lose one digit of data. A copy of all data was automatically sent off site as it was being processed in case of emergencies such as this.

Most of us can't afford the type of system that a bank must have in place, but we can take a few simple precautions. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

-Nancy Massey

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Nancy Massey, Inc.
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