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9/11: Top lessons learned for disaster recovery

A renewed focus on the workforce is biggest change over the past decade

September 9, 2011 06:07 AM ET

Computerworld - In the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, physical security, human contingency planning and an evolution in technological capabilities have improved the odds that business can carry on during -- and after -- a disaster.

While some rules were imposed by the federal government, corporations have in general been doubling down on their own disaster recovery capabilities.

Internal cloud architectures, or virtualization, as well as the ability to run multiple live data centers with active failover, have decreased the time between system failures and data recovery points.

But perhaps the single biggest change to emerge in the post-9/11 world -- prompted in part by later natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina -- has been a new focus on keeping workers working when corporate systems go down.

Workforce resilience

In the years since 9/11, corporations have been forced to consider more flexible work environments that allow employees to work remotely during a disaster through the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) or other means, such as hand-held devices like smart phones.

Gartner analyst Roberta Witty believes the most important 9/11 lesson may seem altruistic, but it's really about survival of the fittest: Companies have to care for their workforce.

Gartner uses the phrase "Workforce Resilience" to cover best practices that ensure workers have access to Internet services, power for mobile devices, use of VPNs and that call trees and mass notification services are in place.

"One thing that came out of that event was the long lapse of time between when it happened and when information could be distributed," Witty said. "So, being able to tell [workers] about the event became important. You want to communicate with them every hour, whether it's new information or not."

Emergency notification service companies such as Everbridge, SunGard, Omnilert and Federal Signal have seen a tremendous uptick in automated call tree services.

Municipal services have also stepped up their capabilities to help businesses and workers function during a disaster. When millions in the Northeast were left without power during Hurricane Irene last month, municipal offices that had power set up Internet cafes and mobile charging stations as a public service. By coordinating with a local Office of Emergency Management, companies can quickly find out how state and city officials are dealing with a disaster.

"Nothing gets done if you don't have the group of people who are on your disaster recovery teams ... able to come to your aid," Witty said. "FEMA has done a great job since 9/11 and Katrina at mobilizing state agencies down to the local level."

Public services and corporate disaster recovery teams have stepped up their use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to keep employees informed and communicate with key players. Many companies have even created the position of social media officer to manage online communications and ensure corporate sites remain updated.

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