Jul 07 2009

Riding Out the Storm

Let strategic planning guide your technology investments.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing — planning is everything.” This could not have been more true than when Hurricane Ike struck Harris County, Texas. In such situations, you must focus on leadership, direct and clear communications and plan accordingly.

But all plans have limitations, regardless of the situation you’re facing. Whether it’s a hurricane with the size and devastation potential of Ike or a simple outage, it’s best to use as much as you can of the established plan and then adapt to the situation at hand.

When the event goes outside the boundaries of your plan, the creative aspects of your job come into play. It’s important to factually evaluate the current situation and provide realistic options for resolution that are available to you.

On the morning of Sept. 13, 2008, the eye of the hurricane approached the Texas coast near Galveston Bay, making landfall at 2:10 a.m. Central Daylight Time over the east end of Galveston Island. Power failures had begun around 8 p.m. the night before, leaving 4.8 million people without electricity.

The eye wall passed directly through the city. The system moved quickly and did not linger over Harris County. Flooding wasn’t a major problem for most of Houston. Most of the damage came from downed trees and power lines, wind damage to homes and window breakage in downtown buildings. However, the county was faced with approximately 150 facilities with myriad servers and phones lacking power, communication capabilities, or both.

The Regional Radio System remained active throughout the storm and its aftermath. This was attributed not only to Harris County’s business continuity planning, but also because of the teamwork and flexibility of the county’s plan. All members of the field team performed beyond expectations, and outside agencies were major contributors to our success.

Many situations arose outside the plan, such as cell phones not working, inoperable T-1 lines and challenges getting fuel to generators. New additions to the plan needed to be made. When you face a situation outside the box, focus on the facts, not on emotions.

Know what resources you have available, and don’t be afraid to request the assistance of others. For example, when the company providing fuel delivery could not get through high water and debris, we called upon the vehicle maintenance divisions of the sheriff’s and Precinct 1 commissioner’s offices to keep us operating.

Keep a finger on the pulse of your employees. They’re working long, strenuous hours. Ensure that they are taken care of from start to finish. With Hurricane Rita, we had more family members at our downtown facility than with Ike, and we also made arrangements for pets.

Communicate both internally to your employees and externally to management how the situation is affecting county departments and your departmental resources. Allow your workers the latitude to make judgment calls at the scene, which executive management must back.

Too many times, you hear about the inflexibility of either the plan or the individual following the plan. That is why the sage advice of Gen. Eisenhower rings so true.

The Circle of Life

Issues arise every day in IT operations, generating this continuous cycle: