Disaster preparedness and recovery plans have taken on new aspects and urgency since September 11. For many who didn't have disaster recovery plans, they have been inspired to create them. Now operations managers of maritime companies who are responsible for their communications and smooth functioning of office systems must also consider more possible threats.
Is your company prepared to continue operating if forced to evacuate your offices due to an anthrax exposure? What if your office, vessels, or people were directly affected by violent terrorist attacks? What happens if your suppliers are unable to provide you communications links
, phone lines, or power? Your plan should consider all of these catastrophes and more.
Developing a Plan
Generally all plans consider a variety of disasters with graduating severity such as:
• acts by a disgruntled employee
• hardware failure or viruses
• loss of power or communications lines
• floods, fire, hurricanes or other natural disasters
• acts of terrorism
Response to each potential disaster depends on the perceived economic impact on your operations. Planning should be tailored to the nature of each disaster. Most companies start with simple precautions such as increasing physical security of all equipment and requiring passwords to access critical data. Most also have contracts in place with their suppliers that provides for replacement or infield service of failed computer equipment
. Firewalls, a barrier between the internet and your network, must be maintained to thwart viruses.
For the smallest to the largest companies, Roy Lund, Manager, Vessel and Shore Systems, of Kirby Corporation, suggests, "Backups should be stored off-site on a rotation basis and you need to test your recovery - that's what people forget to do."
Recovery should be tested routinely to ensure that your backups can be utilized. It doesn't do much good to have your data backed up if you don't also have the right software programs to read the data. Companies with numerous locations can write their data to remote servers. Others contract with hot-sites so when a disaster hits, IT staff and dispatchers hop on a plane and fly to the assigned hot-site office.
Planning for the loss of power has caused many to maintain backup generators. Natural gas is preferred by many over diesel because diesel needs to be stirred and stored properly.
Little things shouldn't be overlooked. Are your dispatchers backing up their data to their local hard drives instead of to the network which is backed up nightly? Does your company have PC's sitting on the ground floor where it could be flooded? What if your people weren't allowed into your building if it was quarantined for possible anthrax exposure? Can your people access your servers remotely? Where would your people physically work?
Now that you have considered your own operations, have your suppliers done the same? Does your internet service provider have backup plans? Do your communications suppliers have redundancy built into every aspect of their systems? Your operations are at their mercy and you should demand the service you need to provide your customers reliable service. When planning for disasters, in many ways there is nothing unique to the marine industry, except for the need to be able to communicate with vessels. Most vessels have multiple modes of communication such as radio, cellular and satellite. In cases where shore-based communications were lost, satellite has proven to be a critical lifeline.
Putting Plans into Action
The key to the success of any recovery is your people. Their preparedness is critical to your survival. At a least once a year, the plan should be tested for full loss of your offices. More frequent tests should address lesser losses.
When the unthinkable happened and terrorists flew two jetliners into the World Trade Center, K-Sea Transportation Corporation of Staten Island, New York found their telephone and internet services were very limited. They needed to communicate with their boats operating along the East Coast during the crisis, so they installed a BOATRACS Mobile Communications Terminal in their office and used it to communicate via satellite to their vessels. It was not just for the boats either. For a while the land phones, cell phones and internet connections simply didn't get the job done. The satellite provided their only reliable communications.
Being creative in times of crises is as essential as having a plan. Like K-Sea, who used a shipboard unit in their office to essentially hop over their failed terrestrial communications, others have used borrowed offices, used cellular connections with laptops and other means to keep operations running.
The degree that your suppliers are prepared and creative also impacts your success. "We have no single point of failure in our systems, and we offer full backup to basic email services, so we are able to respond to our customers' needs." said Chuck Drobny, Chief Operating Officer of BOATRACS. He recalls helping Magnolia Marine when their server was hit with a virus, and Coastal Towing of Houston when they were forced to evacuate during a flood. Having a plan in place that is routinely tested and reviewed, will help lessen the economic impact of disasters on your company, your customers and your shareholders.
Annette Friskopp is an independent consultant with over ten years experience in maritime communications and fleet management. She formerly was the COO of BOATRACS, Inc. and can be reached at: 619-972-1068 or firstname.lastname@example.org.