Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Thinking of India

Courtesy of Chris Syme, a prompt to think about what do you do to insure you can get the message out during a catastrophic emergency.  Here was my answer back to her for the project she was assembling:

Planning for catastrophic failure is a necessary part of communications.  A checklist of alternative methods of distributing information is the starting point.  Knowing where located and how maintained on your current networked infrastructure is the starting point.  During Katrina then Rita, universities on the Gulf Coast discovered that while their primary webservers went underwater in the campus data centers, the companies used by their athletic departments were in other parts of the country and could take over critical communication roles.  As recently as the Joplin, Mo., tornado, the local school district temporarily declared it's Facebook account as the official communications tool as the school system lost its IT department.

Do you travel with an emergency USB key?  On this key should be a copy of every policy and procedure related to an emergency used by your organization, lists of vital phone numbers and email addresses, important data needed to access remote computer resources, and portable versions of the browser and email client used by your organization.  The key may become your computer at any moment, anywhere in the world.

This week, however, the difficulties in India reveal that entire power grids are vulnerable.  At these times, it is important to have procedures in place on how alternatives like partnering with local public safety or public communications volunteers like amateur radio to continue to maintain the ability to reach others with vital information.  Both the Department of Homeland Security through FEMA training courses and the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) with "When All Else Fails" programs provide guidelines for how to continue to operate as a public safety communicator in times of crisis.

Proficiency in using alternate methods and the ability to maintain them comes from practice.  In the event of a serious crisis, the assumption should be the local cell phone network will become overloaded, at least temporarily.  Begin your process of hardening your ability to disseminate messages by unplugging the desktop and turning off your phone -- what is your next step?  Where is the campus/city/county emergency operations center?  Who on your campus has access to satellite phones, and equally important, who is authorized to use them?  Where is the nearest hard-line telephone -- one not dependent on the computer or network based digital phone system?  In extended events, having back-up power, manual equipment, analog radios and the personnel trained to use them is vital to your success.

The most important piece of information is the last one: reach out to the people within your organization or community who have access to these catastrophic event resources.  The last place to exchange business cards with the head of IT, the director of security or public safety, and the regional 911 or emergency operations center director is in a shelter during or immediately after the onset.

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