Hurricane Katrina: Many disaster recovery systems were outdated

Hurricane Katrina: Many disaster recovery systems were outdated

Despite predictions and preventative measures, Katrina caught many businesses and people off guard. Asks adjunct Northwestern professor James Carlini, what disaster recovery plans do you really have in place for your business and your home and how updated are they?
While most of the news coverage has focused on the people and residential aspects, few reports have really taken into consideration the impact to the many businesses down in the South.
They already have said that the Mississippi casino business is in ruins. In addition, you start to wonder about everything else like refineries, shipping ports, facilities and all the other businesses located down on the Gulf Coast.
What about something like the Superdome? What about all the downtown businesses? What about the seafood industry and its future? If the water is now so toxic, how can they harvest shrimp around the coast? Has that been affected? Would you eat any?

Predicted, but not prepared

You can’t say that the ramifications of a major hurricane were never discussed. They talked about it in the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. The articles go into great detail on what would take place in the aftermath of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans. The articles go back to 2002. This makes you believe that someone dropped the ball years ago.
Instead of placing blame on anyone at this time, let’s discuss some lessons that should be learned from both a business and a residential perspective. I believe this event will affect us in the Midwest as much if not more than 9/11 did four years ago.
The rebuilding and recovery is not tied to just the South. Gas shot up immediately nationwide and the excuse was Katrina.
Katrina provides a good excuse for anyone to raise their prices and be “justified” (or at least deemed as acceptable to the average consumer). Everyone became an economic “victim” to Hurricane Katrina. The worst is yet to come in the recovery, which will really be counted in months and years rather than days and months.

Disaster recovery, business continuity

There are two ways to look at what to do after a manmade or natural disaster.
One is to look at disaster recovery, which from a traditional sense is to have an orderly shutdown of systems. This was how most organizations looked at their information technology systems in the 1980s and 1990s. Most consulting firms and those at larger organizations took this approach in designing a plan.
Unfortunately, many organizations that paid for disaster recovery plans never put them to the test and let them gather dust. When something did happen, people who pulled out the report and dusted it off found that their plans to be inadequate and outdated. This happened after 9/11 when organizations found out they were ill-equipped to handle many critical issues.
The newer idea from some consultants was to forget disaster recovery and look into business continuity. No matter what happens, the business should continue functioning. Business continuity means just that. Nothing stops because of a problem inside or outside the property and all mission-critical projects must go on.
In trying to keep a simple approach when looking at your materials, systems, facilities and human capital, you can come up with a fast and cheap assessment. While there are many approaches, you can split all systems and applications into levels of criticality. This is what I call the CAN-DO approach to maintain or build business. All applications and business functions are categorized into four levels of criticality:
Always Necessary
For business continuity to work, you must understand what elements of your business fit into each one of these categories. You then start to develop backup systems and procedures for the critical ones. You don’t worry too much about the ones that are optimal.
This approach ensures continuity and competitiveness. It provides a quick snapshot of applications and functions within the CAN-DO hierarchy.

Recovery may revitalize infrastructure

As I pointed out last week:

With the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, many cities in the South could make a giant leap into the future by adding fiber and other broadband capability as they rebuild bridges, roads and downtown areas. Out of disaster could come a great rebirth of a network infrastructure upgrade equivalent to the Tennessee Valley Authority project, which brought electricity and power to rural areas.

With the correct recovery procedures in place, an organization can actually upgrade obsolete parts of their business and move forward into being more competitive. In a future column, I will provide some insights on residential disaster recovery and avoidance.
Carlinism: This was said many years ago by someone in government: Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes for poor judgment.
See related Wisconsin Technology Network story: Madison company urges disaster warning upgrades

James Carlini is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. He is also president of Carlini & Associates. Carlini can be reached at or 773-370-1888.
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