The IT Agenda: Katrina's Harsh Lessons

Hurricane Katrina leaves us a nation with families torn apart and billions of dollars in damage. It also leaves us with unwelcome but essential lessons.

September 23, 2005

2 Min Read
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My experience in Savannah, with folks who should have known better, proves it's human nature to underestimate a threat, no matter how emphatically the potential destruction of that threat is spelled out or graphically depicted. Put more simply, "It can't happen to us."

Yes, It Can

A friend in Savannah who'd always joined in the ribbing about disaster overplanning recently clued me in to Michael Barnett's blog, a geek survival tale about keeping DirectNic's ISP operations up and running in Katrina's wake. It should be required reading for anyone who's even slightly cynical about the necessity of planning for a catastrophe. After reading some of Barnett's entries, my buddy said what we'd both been thinking: "This could have been us."

Of course, here in Asheville, N.C., surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, you'd think we'd be spared any effects of a hurricane some 650 miles away. But the fuel shortage caused by the shutdown of Gulf refineries and pipelines caused no small concern in our community. You can't roll police cars, fire engines, ambulances or sanitation trucks without gasoline. We made plans to conserve fuel so we could continue critical operations. This also meant testing automated notification systems to keep the workforce informed, and enabling remote operations on a larger scale than ever before.

Once we analyzed the provisioning requirements, we determined that we simply didn't have time to install a VPN client on every employee's machine, so we opted to use a Web-based service, GoToMyPC, with centralized management and good encryption, under a 30-day trial. (Ironically, I'd blasted the first iteration of GoToMyPC in this column--because it lacked management capability, but our technical services group assured me that the problem had been solved.)We survived, but many on the Gulf Coast didn't.

Katrina leaves us as a nation with thousands of families torn apart and billions of dollars in damages. It also underscores some unwelcome but essential lessons:

» Emergency management may always seem to be crying wolf, but we have to fight the tendency to roll our eyes and ignore the cries.

» The consequences of underpreparation are always worse than the consequences of overpreparation.

» Good preparation can mean the difference between life and death.» No matter how much we prepare, it may not be enough.

Jonathan Feldman is director of information services for the city of Asheville, N.C., and a contributing editor to Network Computing. Previously, he was director of professional services at Entre Solutions, an infrastructure consulting company based in Savannah, Ga. Write to him at [email protected].

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