Continuity of operations plans (COOPs) for state and local government are useless without options for communications, data backup and disaster recovery. Lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey demonstrate how preparing ahead of time can make all the difference.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped over 51 inches of rain – or about 27 trillion gallons of water – on Texas and Louisiana. This was more than four times the amount Louisiana and Mississippi received from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Harvey devastated 90,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast, destroying an estimated 175,000 homes. It caused catastrophic flooding, displaced tens of thousands of people and delivered over $180 billion in damage.
After major natural disasters, people look to their state and local government to help communities return to a state of normalcy. Restoring essential services are a top priority, including food, water, electricity, telecommunications, public safety, emergency housing and distribution of state and federal assistance programs.
But sometimes that’s easier said than done. Because of the vast flooding and wind damage from Harvey, phone and utility lines were down, cable was underwater and internet connectivity was unpredictable. Employees whose homes were not flooded worked from home because movement throughout the area was impossible – and dangerous. Fortunately, most cell towers and the internet were in operation.
But even with some level of connectivity in place, remote workforce capabilities were still tested.
- Some organizations found they didn’t have enough virtual private network (VPN) connections to allow their broader workforce to connect simultaneously.
- The increased use of web-based applications and software-as-a-service (SaaS) models helped mitigate the inability to access physical buildings, but such reliance was a risk in itself due to the constant risk of an internet outage.
- Social media played a tremendous role in communications. Yet the sheer volume tied up internet traffic causing slow performance.
What You Can Do to Prepare
The communication challenges associated with Hurricane Harvey are reminders of the importance in developing strong COOPs and reliable communication options to help agencies and employees function during a crisis. Managed IT services and disaster recovery solutions increasingly play a key role for government entities to ensure the stability of essential functions during disasters and emergencies.
Here are five ways you can ensure your COOP can take the hit.
1. Safeguard your critical data:
Hosted data backup and disaster recovery solutions in a cloud environment copies your data in a secure data center disconnected from your network. Backed up data can be stored locally and replicated to an offsite data center or sent directly to the data center from your servers. You can specify recovery for an entire virtual environment or specific end-user systems, cloud applications and enterprise infrastructures.
2. Prepare for outages, disruptions or blackouts:
Built-in redundancies and failover are essential for ensuring communication uptime in the event of a power loss or internet outage. With communications moved to managed cloud networks, you can rest assured trained engineers are monitoring your network in real time, around-the-clock. If your organization experiences connection loss, redundancies ensure calls automatically forward to pre-determined numbers, locations or alternate connections.
3. Lay the foundation for anywhere, anytime access:
Hosted Unified Communications-as-a-Service lets you connect with employees or customers from the road, from home or at any branch office. All messages are unified into a single inbox, so remote workers can forward, share and respond on any device. Mobile calls can be made via Wi-Fi or mobile networks (iOS and Android).
4. Ensure ‘always on’ connectivity:
Multiple carrier access is an important aspect of redundant communications. When you add a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solution to your Unified Communications deployment, you can expect even better bandwidth availability and quality voice connections. SD-WAN continuously monitors your WAN traffic, day and night, and corrects struggling traffic connections by routing to a better connection without a session drop.
5. Merge voice and data on high-speed internet connections:
Managed Network Connectivity solutions provide highly reliable internet connections for both domestic and international communications. By replacing traditional phone lines with multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), Ethernet or fiber optic connections, you can achieve faster connections with multiple levels of real-time traffic prioritization for speed and efficiency. Combined with a fully managed Network Monitoring and Management solution, a team of experts can minimize downtime by monitoring the health of your network to detect and fix performance issues before they happen.