As municipal practitioners, we prepare for emergencies. We attend mandatory training and participate in annual mock emergencies to ensure we are ready to respond quickly and efficiently. We do this because we understand the importance of operational readiness in the event of a declared emergency or other crisis. The ice storm of 1998 and Ontario’s province wide power outage of 2003 are still very much engrained in our minds. More importantly, the lessons learned from those two major events triggered heightened focus on municipal emergency planning.
Imagine a situation in which all or part of the municipality’s IT infrastructure sustains an unplanned catastrophic shutdown. Perhaps this occurs because of a power outage or surge, a fire, a natural disaster or something more nefarious such as vandalism or cyber-terrorism. As a result, imagine you are not able to collect much needed revenue, pay your vendors, pay your staff, respond quickly to other urgent operational needs such as a watermain break, flood or a fire. Perhaps you would need to access digital records in a hurry such as engineering or architectural plans to resolve a critical matter but your IT network is not accessible.
The losses and impact to the community you serve during a prolonged IT outage could be significant if not disastrous. Does your municipality have a plan to respond swiftly in the event of an IT disaster? How would you rebuild? What would your first steps be? If you are not sure, you are probably not alone.
As much as municipalities rely on our IT infrastructure in virtually all facets of our everyday logistics, we often take them for granted. We assume that they will always be there for us. The reality is that this is simply not the case and it is past time that municipalities develop strategies to respond. The risks are too high. Can we mitigate against absolutely everything? Of course not. Nor can we plan for every disaster or emergency. We can however, take steps to protect against the impacts of IT Disasters by developing an IT Disaster Recovery Plan. The IT Disaster Recovery Plan is separate and apart from your Emergency Plan, however, they may both come into play at the same time.
An IT Disaster Recovery Plan will help to get you up and running as fast as possible in the event of a partial or full IT shutdown or crisis. Think of an IT Disaster Recovery Plan as a life line of sorts. It will help keep you afloat.
Fundamentally, your IT Disaster Recovery Plan is about keeping accurate information about your entire IT infrastructure, be it hardware, software or virtual components so that you can rebuild based on what you had in your inventory. Does your municipality have a full inventory of your IT infrastructure? If not you are exposed already. Model numbers, serial numbers, software versions and license information will all be required in order to rebuild accurately and in a timely manner. As such, a comprehensive inventory catalogue is a key component of an IT Disaster Recovery Plan. Keeping the inventory accurate and current is essential if you want to rebuild in a crisis.
On-site and off-site storage information is also vital in the rebuilding process. Ensuring that data storage and back-up protocols are well documented will help to speed up the recovery process.
Detailing all priority IT users is also an essential element for your IT Disaster Recovery Plan. In the municipal sector, this usually includes emergency services, treasury, public works and engineering. However, all areas of the municipality will need to be prioritized so that resources can be brought back online strategically and as soon as possible.
Critical vendors and suppliers should also be well documented to avoid having to scramble finding them in your time of need.
Above all else, your plan must be clear, succinct and easy to follow. You don’t want to have to read a novel in an emergency. You will need to appoint someone who will be responsible for maintaining the plan, ensuring it is up to date at all times, and safely stored in duplicate in more than one secure location. After all, there is no point in only storing one copy of the plan in a location that may be subject to the very disaster that brought down your IT systems in the first place. Only select management personnel should have access to the plan outside of the “keeper of the files” themselves to ensure security is maintained. Clear procedures should be established to access plan when needed.
An IT Disaster Recovery Plan is not exciting, and can be tedious to develop and maintain, but it may be what allows you to recover swiftly during a critical loss of your IT infrastructure. Do not wait, take steps to build your plan and protect your municipality today. If you do not have the resources or in-house skills, there are many qualified experts available to assist. The important thing is that you take the first step today. Trying to rebuild during a crisis is a recipe for disaster.
Municipal Government Wayfinders is ready to partner with you to create strategies and develop best practices that work for your municipality’s unique circumstance. Contact us at info@MGWayfinders.com or call our offices at 613-319-2940.