Business Continuity Plan RefreshA disaster is the wrong time to make sure a campus' plan for continuing operations works. No snow no-shows: Ensuring that learning can happen in the aftermath of a snowstorm is a new page in George Mason University's business continuity plan. Four feet of snow in a week might be awesome if you run a ski resort, but it causes havoc if you run a college or university campus. In addition to learning it's hard to shift that much snow out of the way, Hughes says they realized Blackboard was still running and faculty members familiar with it were still in touch with their students. Ensuring learning can continue in the aftermath of a snowstorm or other natural disaster is a new page in GMU's business continuity plan.
GMU leaders began working on their business continuity plan in 2006 after following what happened to schools in and around New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Unfortunately, many schools are still just discussing the need for a plan and not actually making one, says Tony Hernandez, managing director at LECG, a consulting firm serving higher ed.
Yet campus leaders might not be ABLE to "do" what they expect they would do during an emergency.
Seven Habits of Highly Resilient Higher Ed Institutions CDW-G suggests the following steps to make sure your institution is prepared to weather a service interruption. Another common issue is people think they are protected since they are backing up their data.
After determining the mission-critical systems and servers, campus leaders must determine how much tolerance there is for down time.
Experts agree that higher ed leaders appear to have a good handle on what their mission-critical systems are, including course management systems so classes can continue, websites for communicating updates, and student records. The world has become so digital that an extended downtime is no longer acceptable, says Fadi Albatal, vice president of product marketing for FalconStor, a provider of digital data backup and storage. A problem Hernandez sees in determining priority systems is that the task is frequently delegated to the technology department alone. Ave Maria University has collaborated with a local school district to co-locate equipment to provide backup and communication continuity. While advanced technologies are making network continuity more affordable, it still isn't cheap when done properly.
A growing higher ed trend to contain costs is partnering with other colleges and universities, both in and out of state, to provide backup services. Clouding the issue is that people have started confusing business continuity with disaster recovery.


Facilities Focused When developing and refining a business continuity plan, "you have to look beyond voice and data," urges Bryan Mehaffey, vice president of technology at Ave Maria University (Fla.). Identifying a backup command center off the main campus at which campus leaders can congregate is also an important part of a business continuity plan. Lacking a second campus at Ave Maria, Mehaffey has collaborated with a local school district to co-locate equipment to provide backup and communication continuity. Voice over IP is revolutionizing emergency communications, says Capurro, adding that CIOs are working with risk management to better understand new capabilities it provides. As any CIO knows, testing the data recovery systems can be very disruptive, but that is starting to change. In a digital data storage environment, like that offered by FalconStor, backups happen on a continual basis making testing and recovery much less disruptive, Albatal says. Because of the disruptive nature of network testing, it's important to be alert for other opportunities. At GMU, every two weeks, the president's executive council meeting is dedicated to emergency management, including testing their assumptions around various scenarios.
Business continuity planning (BCP) is the capacity to maintain functional operations during or shortly following disruptive events, or the capability to quickly resume business functions and research activities after such an event. Through oversight, coordination, and collaboration, the program ensures that the methodology, plans, and tools are in place to minimize the impacts of a crisis event. Learn about the Business Continuity Progam, including ways to contact us or get involved in events. That is just the quandary campus leaders in the mid-Atlantic were dealing with in December 2009. Hughes believes it was the existence of the plan that allowed the campus to weather the storm in the first place because back-up servers and generators were already in place. Although the loss of life was nowhere near what Louisiana experienced, Florida suffered from $1 to $2 billion in damage. That realization has led many campus leaders to discussions of creating a business continuity plan.
During a tabletop scenario in which the GMU data center was flooded, someone responded, "I'll call Bob," but Bob was unavailable and the group was stumped on the next step to take. That can cause tension among different departments if enough people aren't involved in the early stages.
According to Hernandez, business continuity is focused on functioning tomorrow, while disaster recovery is about returning to the way things were yesterday.


Prior to last year's snowstorm, the server was on campus and six people had the ability to activate the page. Hughes' team can fall back to their Prince William Campus, which has served as a staging ground for presidential inaugurations.
A remote monitoring system ensures Ave Maria campus leaders can keep an eye on things even if the campus has to be evacuated. When selecting communications vendors, he took into consideration what area businesses and local government were using in order to create stronger partnerships. The technology allows him to relocate to an emergency command center but still use the same phone number and voicemail, making it easier to stay in touch during a crisis.
For example, a wildfire might be a concern for institutions in parts of California, but not those in Pennsylvania.
Providers such as Qwest, meanwhile, have monitoring systems in place that should automatically switch traffic to a secondary network when the primary network goes down. Hughes used the move to a new data center in June as a way to test the GMU network and practice how long it took to bring a server back up. Since then, a large group of people has been trained, since there is no way of knowing who will be available during an emergency.
Our infrastructure today is very resilient." From his perspective, online classes and e-mail are priority systems, he says.
Leaders quickly realized the arrangement was vulnerable and the school now has a redundant server and more authorized users. Hurricane Katrina and the tragedy at Virginia Tech might have made campus leaders realize they need a business continuity plan, but they aren't necessarily the crisis that plan should cover because they are "statistically unlikely," says Hernandez.
Although it is less disruptive, having that functionality can make the system more expensive.
Everyone on the emergency management team has two back-ups with whom they rotate the leadership position every six months.
But the need for immediate access to student records isn't as high as needing class schedules and data to be up and running when restoring a sense of normalcy.



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