Q&A with Brian Voss of Louisiana State University

Brian D. Voss didn't have time to pull out the disaster plan following Hurricane Katrina, but it didn't matter, because it wouldn't have prepared him for what was to come.

Brian D. Voss is CIO at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He was appointed in 2005 and serves as a member of the Chancellor's Executive Cabinet. Before that, Voss was associate vice president for IT at Indiana University, where he also served as COO of the Pervasive Technology Lab. With more than 20 years of leadership experience in information technology, Voss is a frequent speaker and writer on IT issues.

EdTech: Brian, at Louisiana State University in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, you said you didn't follow the [disaster recovery] book – you rewrote it.
Voss: Well, certainly LSU's campus in Baton Rouge didn't have the same impacts as those that were experienced by our colleagues in New Orleans. We were never flooded; we were never storm damaged. The cause of the closure that we had for a number of days had to do with the role we were playing in the response efforts. I always throw that caveat in right away for a couple of reasons. One, I don't for a moment want to put myself in the same league as the folks in New Orleans that still have to rebuild their campus infrastructure after this. And second, I don't want people to have the view that Baton Rouge was in any way rendered into the same sort of condition that New Orleans was.

EdTech: From what I read, yours was almost a unique case. Voss: I've always thought about disaster recovery and business - continuity planning, it all had to do with what if your data center were struck down. So that's sort of a traditional view, where an isolated incident takes out your facility in the middle of the campus, and the rest of the institution is standing by waiting to go forward. And what we saw with Katrina was what happens when the entire area – your entire city – is taken out. So we were able to observe that from the New Orleans schools. The third aspect is what happens when you're on the edge of someone's disaster and suddenly instead of doing what you were doing, you have to be able to cope and respond to circumstances that are beyond what you ever thought you would have to do.

EdTech: After Katrina hit and the levees broke, you and the administrators started to realize the extent of what was happening. When the refugees started coming your way, did you take on the role of a designated relief center, or was that decision made by the state or FEMA saying, "OK, we're going to use your facilities because you have the Maravich Center and others to house people"? How did that pan out?
Voss: It's part of Louisiana's long-standing standard disaster planning that LSU is identified as a special needs evacuation facility. We have a field house, which is the place where basketball used to be played before we built a modern basketball arena. It's a large gymnasium with folding bleachers that has had a second life supporting other sports activities. That field house was where we've traditionally been prepared to deal with evacuees, specifically, special needs ones.

So, through the early storms that arose in the summer of 2005, we got wind that this might be coming. Again, our biggest concern in Baton Rouge was dealing with the evacuation of New Orleans and what that means to us. And what that physically meant was preparing our campus for being in a community that was going to swell in size. There were certainly some security aspects, as well as preparing this special needs facility to handle an influx of patients that might come to it. And the thought there was, normally this is a short-term thing, so when people evacuate New Orleans, there needs to be a place that's going to operate for 24, 48 or 72 hours, and then people would go back. Not unlike, I think, how the mayor of New Orleans and others viewed the Superdome. It was a place where you went to ride out the storm and then, when the storm was over, you left.

In much the same sort of way, as the scope of the disaster dawned upon us, we realized we'd become a place that wasn't just using a small facility for some special needs, but that this is where we can help set up very expanded sorts of services. So, what happened was that medical units wanted to have a mobile hospital or a field hospital. And then you needed to have places to house disaster response workers. So there really wasn't this articulated plan to deal with something like Katrina. It sort of came to us gradually. It wasn't like someone showed up here Tuesday morning from FEMA or even the state and said, "We're in charge; this is what we're going to do; help us get this going." Separate agencies and separate response units started showing up to do things, and there was no coordination. Ultimately, LSU's administration and organization took charge of that. That happened because after a couple of days of wondering when someone's going to show up to be in charge, you've finally got to decide: OK, I guess we're going to be in charge.

EdTech: That must have been a real juggling act for you and the IT staff and, obviously, for the administrators. You're used to dealing with multiple constituencies: faculty, staff, students, administrators, community, parents. And you already had everyone back and ready for school in late August, right?
Voss: School had already started the week before Katrina.

EdTech: So you had a full campus?
Voss: Yes, we had a full campus, but as the storm advanced it was Saturday when the prediction models shifted from a Florida panhandle to a Louisiana Gulf coast landing. Part of our normal routine when a storm approaches is to make a decision on what we're going to do about classes. On that Saturday the decision was, well, it's going to hit, so we're going to close the university, of course, on Monday during the storm. Close the university on Tuesday to facilitate cleanup. Bring faculty and staff back in on Wednesday and have the students return on Thursday.

EdTech: Since you had already had the students evacuate, the campus wasn't full when the storm hit?
Voss: Right. And it wasn't so much an evacuation as it was us telling the students: Look, there's a storm coming. The university is going to be closed for a number of days; you decide what you want to do.

EdTech: And what percentage decided that they were going to leave campus as opposed to staying on campus
Voss: A very large percentage, probably 75 percent to 80 percent of the students decided to head for home. We have a large portion of our student body that's Louisiana-based, or certainly within the Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Southeast, Southwest section. It's not uncommon at any college that on Friday afternoon the campus clears out unless there's a football game. So you have that sort of natural thing that happens, and the students were told, you need to go wherever you feel most comfortable. We certainly will make you safe here, but if you want to go and be at home with your family, that's what you should do.

The campus cleared out, and then we had to shift from our normal role of supporting IT in higher education to supporting this ever-growing disaster response effort. We spent lots of time installing telephone sets, data connections, providing network services, wireless, support for that. These agencies and people would show up, and of course they wanted IT access, and they didn't come in hauling their own computers. So we had to provide laptop computers or desktop computers to some of these people. As folks from parts of the LSU system that were affected in New Orleans started showing up in the LSU system office, there was the demand for them to have access to IT. Again we had to provide more equipment and network connectivity. Really, in the first day or two after the storm, we were scrambling to build our network out by a fairly significant amount to handle the response effort.

Then, as we saw more of these evacuees and hospitals, patients, agencies and then volunteers, it became a chore to figure out how to track them all. These people show up to run these volunteer efforts, and they don't come with an information system, so they then need to know which doctors are here, which nurses are here, who's in, who's left, what patients have come in, what patients have gone out, a tracking sort of thing. We were asked to start developing some of those information tools as well.

EdTech: Just so I can understand this a little bit better, tell me the size of your student population.
Voss: The LSU campus has about 24,000 undergrads and another 2,500 to 3,000 graduate students, so it's just under 30,000.

EdTech: And the percentage that are local as opposed to out of state?
Voss: I don't have a good handle on that, but my guess is that it's probably a fairly high percentage of Louisiana residents; probably around 75 percent to 80 percent.

EdTech: I'm assuming that the plan was that the campus would be shut down until the Thursday after the storm. You guys extended that considerably further.
Voss: Well, what happened is that as this effort unfolded, we realized that with all the ambulances and personnel, military personnel, agency personnel, evacuees, that it wasn't going to be possible for us to just start being a university again. As that week started to pass, it became more and more apparent that we were going to have to postpone the date that the students would return.

The following Monday after that was Labor Day, which would have been a day off, so the decision was made to restart classes on the following Tuesday. That decision was made later in the week. I think on Wednesday we told the students you're not going to come back until next Tuesday. But even that decision was jeopardized because this was just not a short-duration thing.

And by that weekend, LSU made the decision to postpone its first home football game of the season, because this just wasn't a place to bring people to. There were no hotel rooms for people who were fans. There was no place to put the teams. And a lot of the facilities were in use for the response efforts.

What we started to see unfold as that week went by was a real concern on the part of our chancellor that if we didn't start to make some moves back to being a university, we could find ourselves closed almost indefinitely. We had a lot of requests for, "Can we put responders up in dormitory rooms, or can we put evacuees up in dormitory rooms?" The students had already moved into them, so, no, we couldn't allow that. I think that the longer we had stayed closed, the more pressure we would have had to stay closed and be part of a longer term response effort.

The other pressure was that as the week passed it became very apparent that the New Orleans-based institutions were not going to reopen in the fall, and the decision was made to offer displaced students the ability to enroll here. So there was also a pressure to extend the closing date so we could get more and more of these students registered.

Ultimately, I think our chancellor made a very bold decision when he said, I think it was on Friday of that week, "Are we going to be a university this fall or not?" Of course, it was a rhetorical question, and the answer was, "Yes, we are going to be a university." So he stuck to Tuesday as the reopening date and said, "This is what we're going to do. It's going to be rough. There's going to be still an awful lot of external personnel in our campus environment. We're going to have all these new students who aren't going to know their way around. We're going to still have students who are migrating back. And," he said, "this is going to be sort of fits and starts and maybe not perhaps very elegant, but we're going to reopen classes on that Tuesday, Sept. 6, and we're going to work our way through it." And that turned out to be exactly the right decision.

EdTech: I'm curious, did you have a means for keeping in touch with your students as the communications changed to tell them what the next steps were going to be? Did you have an effective means to get the information to your students?
Voss: Sure, it was the Web. The report of what was going on pretty much took over the LSU home page. That was where we communicated with students. We did a little bit of e-mail, mass e-mailing, but mostly to make people aware of the Web site. I've been in some discussions since with other CIOs as well as members of the government, and they're certainly talking about this aspect of alert and notification. The Web is, I think, the best way to do that. You can put the information out there, and then everyone can go find it and you can update it very quickly. You're not having to worry about whether someone has access to his or her e-mail and whether you're flooding the network with e-mails. I think the Web is a very effective mechanism for communications. That gets into the area of broader business continuity: the fact that the Web is the right way to communicate with people during these kinds of situations. It also shows just how vitally important it is for an institution to make sure that its Web site remains up.

EdTech: Right. It's also useful as a way for parents to get the latest information if the phone lines are down or the shell systems are down, or some other problem exists. I know it's being used by a lot of schools now as the primary interactive way for people to communicate.
Voss: Absolutely. We developed some applications along the way so that LSU students could check in. We had a Web site where they could say, "I'm here," "I'm fine," those sorts of things. Since there wasn't damage or really disaster in the Baton Rouge area, we didn't have a lot of cases of parents not knowing where their students were.

EdTech: What taxed your IT systems most? I know at one point you mandated that your staff take 12 hours off; no ifs, ands or buts. What day was that, how stressed were they, and how taxed were your systems that you basically had to make some decisions to keep people working at a competent level? Also, were there any systems that were taxed to the point that your disaster recovery plan came into play or you had to rewrite the book on some things?
Voss: What I learned was that a lot of traditional disaster recovery business continuity planning revolves around hardware. Do we have the computer equipment, the networking equipment to take care of a disaster? I actually think that the two most critical things are not hardware but information or data, and people.

As far as being taxed, the folks in our area who were responsible for networking were very taxed because this is a 24 x 7 operation. Not only during the first few days did you have, "We need more; we need more; we need more," but then as the agencies started trying to work with each other and trying to take on different functions concerning the overall picture, it became, "We need this moved here; we need this moved there; can you pick this up and move it over here?" Our networking staff had to do the vast majority of this. But we also pressed people into service who weren't really busy because they were in charge of supporting students on campus. We asked them to come down and help with some of these efforts as well. There were a lot of requests like these: "We need this information up or we need a little system that will help us track this." So even our systems development folks, who normally would have been standing idle at this time because they really couldn't make progress, were in working on these applications.

Our high-performance computing people – the researchers – were running lots of models and wanted to look at what had happened to try to glean some of the science out of this disaster, so those resources were also taxed fairly heavily. I think that as we got to Labor Day and started to see a bit of a time shift here, I just decided that people had to go home. People who had been working 20-hour days, sometimes 24-hour days, just were not going to be able to exist in that mode for long. Plus, I knew that on Sept. 7 we were going to have our normal jobs back. Once the classes started, we were going to be spending time supporting the things we do at any other time the students are here.

EdTech: In terms of the personnel resources that you had on hand, did you augment that with student resources?
Voss: Well, we have student workers anyway. So, from an IT standpoint we certainly used our student workers who were in town.

EdTech: Did you look for any other computer talent?
Voss: No. There was no need for us to recruit extra student workers to help us do what we were doing. Certainly the students who were here and who came back were encouraged to volunteer over in the humanitarian areas. There were those sorts of things, but from an IT perspective, I wasn't swamped.

EdTech: When you added new equipment, was it hardwired or was it Wi-Fi?
Voss: We did both. We took advantage of some pretty good network wiring in the presence of IT networking so that almost all of our temporary phones are IP telephony. That's just a lot easier to set up and take down and move around in these sort of temporary locations. We have a pretty good wireless network here on campus, and we augmented it in spots. But wireless doesn't always perform as well as wired, so we did string a lot of cable on floors and things like that, especially in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC).

EdTech: Did you have to put in new nodes for the wiring or were you just kind of jockeying the notebook PCs around?
Voss: We certainly added a few nodes, especially over in the PMAC. Normally the PMAC is not really a wireless building, so we had to do that. We had some equipment on hand.

EdTech: That's a good thing. Looking back on the existing playbook for disaster recovery, since you've had some time to think about it, I'm curious how the playbook was before and how you see it now, in terms of preparing for any disaster you might face. Pre-Katrina versus now.
Voss: The disaster plan that LSU had prior to Katrina was one that had been based on some experience with bad storms, but certainly no bad hurricanes in what I would call the "information age." A lot of people noticed that this storm really brought out how dependent we are on technology, whether for communications, or getting information or whatever. This is certainly the first storm in Louisiana during the information age to have this kind of impact. We saw that a lot of people didn't have any preparation for how they were going to use IT, and that meant we had to scramble.

Since then, I know that I've certainly taken a harder look at my own disaster plan. Recently, the chancellor asked for everyone's disaster plan because a new hurricane season is approaching. He specifically wanted to have a section in it that dealt with the lessons staffers had learned and what changes they had made since Katrina. I think that you're seeing those plans start to roll up and take advantage of this.

The point is that when disaster strikes, do the rules and the plan go out the window? I have become more and more a believer in the fact that you cannot have a 6-inch binder filled with a very detailed instruction plan for dealing with disasters, because during a disaster you don't have time to look at it. During a disaster things unfold in a very chaotic manner. Just because you have a plan for how the last disaster affected you doesn't mean it will work in the next disaster.

EdTech: I think you said that it can't be a "break-glass-in-case-of-disaster" plan. That's a good metaphor for it.
Voss: In this process of having to prepare the plans for the chancellor, I asked my staff to show me our existing written disaster plan. It was dated 1984. So I said, "That's no good," and we created something sort of on the fly. We focused on how we would deal with a disaster to our facility, how we would deal with a disaster to the whole campus and the Baton Rouge area, and how we would deal with a disaster that occurred elsewhere where we would be on the fringe.

EdTech: And today there's also so much more emphasis and scrutiny and legal issues about protecting the data.
Voss: Absolutely. There were times during this crisis where we would have people say, "We want to put up a Web site that would allow people to check to see where their loved ones are and what their medical condition and status was." I had to just say, "Whoa, HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act]. We cannot do this. You cannot have a Web site that says, 'John Jones, with this Social Security number and this address, came through here with a broken arm and was dispatched to such and such a place.'"

EdTech: Was your system hacked by anyone who thought you were vulnerable at the time?
Voss: No.

EdTech: You're lucky.
Voss: This was just cases of people not understanding the legal ramifications, but they were very well-motivated. They wanted to do these things because they thought it would be of service, because they were dealing with phone calls. Someone would call up and say, "My loved one, I think, came through the Pete Maravich Center; can you tell me where he or she is?" And the helpers would say, "Well, naturally, we'll just put all this information up on the Web." And I'd say, "Well, naturally, you won't." So, we had to deal with that.

I think, though, that we've been developing what we're going to do. We're looking at how we're managing our backup tapes. One of the lessons we learned from the New Orleans schools was that they had taken their data backups offsite, which is good. And they had taken them into downtown New Orleans and stored them in a very safe storage facility on the sixth floor of a building. Unfortunately, the first floor of that building flooded, and no one could get in there for weeks. So I said, where are our backups? And my staff said, "They're on the other side of the river from Baton Rouge." Well, that's no good. So we're taking a look at our normal processes and how we need to change those, being mindful of a very broad-based disaster.

The second thing we're doing is looking at some disaster recovery spending that would help us ensure that the very key, critical services and systems are available. Those are the LSU Web space, electronic mail, connections to the Internet and access to some of this data. We're looking for how we could use an offsite facility someplace not in this region to restore those services rather quickly.

EdTech: There are some schools, I'm told, that have started to think about using text messaging as a way to communicate in time of disaster.
Voss: Well, we've certainly found that cell phones can be problematic. The cell phone service in New Orleans went out because of the destruction. It went out in Baton Rouge because the population of people with cell phones swelled by a factor of two. It just overpowered the system. But what we discovered was that text messaging certainly worked faster. What I was talking about was spending some money to build this infrastructure to replicate the key components that facilitate communication and the sharing of information. That's one step of our process.

Another piece of the process is that we're assembling a "lifeboat." I told my disaster business continuity planning person to consider: What if we had a few hours' notice that we had to abandon ship? And that we'd have to set up our administration someplace else? What tools would we need to take with us so that we could support the university operating in exile? Given that we could find a facility someplace else, what data would we need so that we could bring back online our institutional data environments, in terms of financial, students, personnel and course systems?

These kinds of strategies – taking a look at what we're doing today, spending some money to build a broadened infrastructure to help us prepare for a disaster, and then developing this lifeboat that we would grab and go – are the cornerstones of where we're heading with our disaster recovery plan, or business continuity plan may be the right way to put it.

EdTech: Other than revamping some of your older disaster recovery plans, what are some other immediate changes you're going to make? Maybe more on a tactical level with your disaster recovery plan.
Voss: What we've done is started the effort to move our backups someplace else other than right across the river. We're also ensuring that we have the architecture in our environment that allows us to separate these things out. I'll give you a prime example. One of the decisions we made was unrelated to the disaster but had to do with finance and service: We outsourced our student e-mail. We no longer provide student e-mail here. Students get an address, an LSU address, and for all intents and purposes it's LSU e-mail, but it's not housed here. If we were to, for some reason, lose our data center, that's not going to affect the ability of our students to exchange e-mail.

In fact, when the University of New Orleans staff was trying to figure out how to get its student e-mail back up, we set up a deal with the company that does our outsourcing, and the company brought the UNO students' e-mail back up and gave them new accounts. What we're looking at now is how we can do the same sort of thing as backup for faculty staff e-mail.

Things like that, to ensure that those critical services can be taken care of, are the tactical things that we're doing. Having a list of all the key people in our organization, having that on a concise phone list that all of us can carry, is a good tactical thing. It gives us, again, one of the two most valuable things you have in the event of a crisis - your people. And I've heard folks who have lived through the Ground Zero sort of effect say, "You know, IT workers today are becoming first responders." We have to show up because everything is IT dependent. We had better, as an IT organization, have in mind how we're going to take care of our staff. Do we have food, water, blankets, things like that? Can we provide some sort of accommodations for their families?

These are new things that we've never had to think of before. On the Saturday before the hurricane a colleague of mine said that he and his wife were going to Dallas and asked whether my wife and I wanted to come. I thought about it briefly, but then said no. It's a good thing, too, because I needed to be here. IT workers are vital to the operation of higher education institutions today – just as vital as key administrators, campus police, facilities people and all those sorts of jobs. Because if we don't show up, they can't do their jobs, either.

EdTech: As a part of that, since you play such a vital role, are you also looking at what kind of role will apply in terms of outsourcing your e-mail? Do you want your IT workers to be working on something tactical like getting a server running when there's a crisis, or just making that one call to the outsourcer to make sure it's up and running, and then doing the nine other things they could be doing if they weren't working with tactical technology, uptime issues?
Voss: I think that's exactly right. We're going to take a look at all of our architectures now, all of our systems and services, with an eye toward how they would be served in the event of a crisis. Normally you just don't do that. And I think that will be a difference between how my colleagues in the Gulf and I look at IT infrastructure and services in the future, versus our colleagues who are in areas that weren't affected. The great value of interviews like this one is that it helps to share our experiences so people elsewhere can start considering, "Wow, I need to think of how a disaster could affect this new service or infrastructure I'm rolling out." When I lived up in Indiana, this wasn't anything I thought about.

EdTech: Disaster can be categorized as almost anything.
Voss: Yes. While you have a hurricane that can take out a city, a flu pandemic is an example of something that could hit anyplace. And if you are in a college town 50 or 60 miles from a major metropolitan city that gets hit by a flu pandemic, you could find yourself experiencing many of the same sorts of things we did with evacuees from a medically devastated zone, rather than from a storm-devastated area.

The same is true for a terrorist attack. Not at all to minimize what happened on Sept. 11, but the physical space that was affected was relatively small. Another such incident certainly could be much larger. We need to be thinking about this regardless of where we are. I don't think there's any place in the country that's safe.

EdTech: Agreed. Of everything that's happened since your time there, during Katrina and post-Katrina, what surprised you most from an IT CIO's point of view? Was it how your administrators had to take over almost as civil defense workers? Or how things that you never anticipated would happen, happened?
Voss: I guess I always felt that when these things happen, some "them, the government," had a plan and was going to show up and take charge and make things happen and make things work. What surprised me was how that didn't happen and how it really fell to local administrators, or local government or whatever to figure out a way to survive this.

Ultimately the government did show up, represented by the Army units that rolled into New Orleans on Sept. 2 or Sept. 3. And ultimately the government did take over, but what surprised me was just how long it took for some sort of organization to come in and be put into place.

From an IT perspective, what surprised me most was that people didn't realize how integrated information technology is into everything that we do. Whenever I talk about the IT vision, I start off by trying to make the case that IT is as critical and as strategic an asset to the institution as its buildings, its faculty, its curricula, its history. IT is a strategic asset because it is involved in everything. I have to make that point over and over again.

What surprised me was that it really took this sort of event for people to start to understand just how dependent we are on technology. And people shouldn't be surprised; CIOs have been talking about this for some time. So it just surprised me that we still have a ways to go to convince people in higher education administration that IT is not this luxury item, or this awful expense or this thing to be tolerated. Rather it should be something that's embraced and accepted for what it is – an enabler of everything we do in higher education.

EdTech: So you're seeing part of this as an opportunity to revisit the conversations that are being had about the way IT supports the university in achieving its mission.
Voss: Absolutely. I am working on a flagship IT strategy because we have our flagship agenda here that talks about advancing LSU nationally. I haven't even been on the ground for a year, and we are in the process of moving forward our strategic plan. I've got it drafted; I know what the recommendations are. I've got 85 or so action items. And we're going back to the committees that helped us prepare this to move it toward becoming a solid written document.

I'm finding it much easier, as I'm writing these things or talking to people about it, to impress on them how critically important it is, simply because of what we went through. So, from my perspective, the timing has never been better. I think that when we talk about IT in general, people now understand how critical it is and how important it is to advancing science, or advancing teaching and learning, or advancing how the university operates and communicates. I think I have a real opportunity, given this horrible thing that happened, to have people listen and perhaps be convinced by my arguments.

EdTech: If anything, it probably enhances the argument and allows more CIOs to have a seat at the table.
Voss: A key example of this was that we are certainly in a very difficult budget situation at LSU in the state of Louisiana. We had a $71 million cut that the governor asked higher education to take this fiscal year. We had to go through our budgets and say, "All right, we won't spend 'x' amount of dollars." Now that's gotten a little bit better as the state's revenue picture has improved somewhat.

Recently, someone from the university budget office commented in a meeting that our budget is tight, but we're sure hoping that Brian Voss is going to bring us a proposal of how we might better prepare ourselves to continue business in the face of a disaster. And if there was ever an invitation from the money folks, I haven't heard a better one. My goal is to not come back with a number large enough to make them choke, but to give them a very manageable number that I believe they can fund but that will also advance a lot of the things we want to do with regard to business continuity.

EdTech: I'm wondering before we wrap up, Brian, whether there are some points that you'd like to make in this interview that we haven't touched upon yet.
Voss: No, I think we've covered a lot of them. I'd like to emphasize this concept of, let's not try to build humongous disaster plans that are going to cost millions and millions of dollars to fund. Because as CIOs we're going to very quickly lose the momentum behind this. If our plans are too cumbersome or take too long to put together, we're going to miss the moment. And if what we try to accomplish is going to cost too much money, we're not going to get that money.

We need to be reasonable. We need to look at disaster as something that's going to be different, it's going to be chaotic, and we need to prepare ourselves to be flexible with our plans. Concentrate on how are you going to have inventory around, how are you going to reach your people, how are you going to take care of your people? How are those things going to happen? Then go from there as opposed to trying to spend weeks and months writing very detailed scenarios, in case of "x," do "y." I think that's a real key that CIOs need to take into account here. Now's the time to do something and let's do something that puts us a step closer to being able to survive and adapt and improvise and overcome these situations.

EdTech: In terms of that short list of really key, actionable things that should be included, is the lifeboat a part of it?
Voss: Absolutely. What we've tried to do is just look at some of the general things that we do and get smarter. Don't put our backups six miles away in the same zone of disaster. Don't have our architecture so tightly intertwined that in order to even bring the Web site back, we have to have our entire IT infrastructure working. Make sure that we have an alternate Web site location set up so that in case all of Baton Rouge goes down, our Web site is someplace else and can be redirected there with propagation through a Domain Name System.

That sort of thing, taking a look then at how are we going to handle these priority items. What is priority to me will be different from what's priority to somebody who's the CIO at Rice, or the CIO at Alabama, but to define those sort of fast action items that you need to have, that you would want to have backed up, replicated someplace else and take care of those. And then the third thing is, what if you had to abandon ship? What are you going to need to take with you not only to repopulate the university's information technology environment, but to provide that needed IT support to the university that could be working off of its campus for some time?

EdTech: It's the period from six months to a year after the storm when they need aid and support and all that sort of thing.
Voss: I think that's very true. Now is the time our colleagues down in New Orleans could use that kind of help because they're back on their campuses trying to rebuild things. I'm hopeful the community will still do that.

The other thing that I've heard many people repeat is: You really can't understand the devastation in New Orleans until you go there. If you have a chance to go to New Orleans, do that. Somebody at a conference I was at recently casually said, "Well, New Orleans is back up and running, and everything's going to be fine there in a couple of months, right?" The answer was, "No, not even in a couple of decades will it be all right."

EdTech: That's where people have a short memory.
Voss: Right. What you see on television reflects a very short memory. They're showing images of Mardi Gras, and it's like, well, New Orleans must be fine. In that 12-square-block area, yes, it's fine. But you can drive for miles through parts of that city and not be in a place where there's any electrical stuff, or any commerce or any people. I mean, it's just haunting.

Lee Copeland is editor in chief and Tom Halligan is editorial director of EdTech.

Oct 31 2006

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