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Evaluating remote access in disaster recovery plans before a disaster strikes

Learn about the importance of evaluating and setting up remote access services before a disaster strikes.

It's important to evaluate and set up remote access services for your disaster recovery (DR) plan before a disaster...

strikes. Response Telemessaging Inc., a call center in Houston Tex., and vulnerable to hurricanes, has developed strategies to ensure remote access capabilities in a disaster over the years. The company provides call center services for companies that range in size from the Fortune 500 to SMBs. They use multiple generators for emergency power and multiple primary rate interfaces (PRIs) to ensure phone service.

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Last year when Hurricane Ike made landfall, they also got rid of rules such as employee dress codes and eating on the job to help the company get past the crisis said Vonda Tackett, founder and president/CEO of Rite Response. "We ended up with a wonderful group of employees who slept here and worked 16-hour days and created a great bond."

Her husband, CIO Steve Tackett, said the company maintained critical power and communications, but had spotty Internet service, a problem that was resolved in the course of the greater crisis.

"Our industry-specific communications platform from Amtelco already provides for remote access, although most of our employees were working from the office," explained Steve Tackett. "We didn't receive one customer complaint during that time, which was chaotic and resulted in longer hold times. We sailed right through it."

Rite Response clients include the liver center at Baylor University Medical Center and the local chapter of the American Red Cross. The company posted automated messages on its machines that directed homeless people to nearby shelters before the government response was up and running.

Steve Tackett credited redundant systems for its ability to, literally, weather the storm.

"You can't put together a plan when a disaster hits. You have to know in advance what to do, where to go and how to work during a disaster," said Peter J. Messina, senior vice president and COO at Computer Alternative Processing Sites (CAPS) Inc., Shelton, Conn. CAPS provides data management and disaster recovery planning (including alternate workstations) for its clients.

What you need for remote access in a disaster

The needs for remote access include a computer and appropriate software, a virtual private network, or some sort of Internet access and a Web-based solution that allows access to company information. Data encryption would be required if a company needs to deal with financial or other critical information, which should reside behind a strong firewall.

Depending on the size and nature of one's business, only certain people may need to work remotely during a crisis, but these determinations should be well thought-out before a disaster strikes. Voice, text and instant messaging may be no-brainers for remote access, but Messina said many at-home workers overlook the possible importance of faxed communications during a crisis.

Most of the companies that Messina's firm deals with do have a disaster recovery plan, but he encourages companies to update and test the DR plan regularly.

Rockline Industries Inc. purchased its SaaS-based unified email management system from Mimecast for its journaling and signature capabilities, and it proved useful when an ice storm knocked out power to its Springdale, Ark., production facility and headquarters for nearly four days in January. Mimecast provides an online technology platform for email archiving, continuity, security, policy management and marketing and attachment management.

Key employees had the Mimecast product installed on their laptops, allowing full access to email through Microsoft Outlook, but the Web-based product also allowed any employee to access email remotely, said Perry Fritz, enterprise operations manager at Rockline Industries. Because of redundant servers in the U.S. and Europe, everything was accessible except for information on the servers at the Arkansas facility.

The only issue Rockline employees encountered was unfamiliarity with the Web-based email program, but Fritz said that was solved with a modicum of hand-holding.

"Mimecast has become our hub for email," Fritz said. "The core reason we bought it was to better use email architecture, and we discovered an outside service was a better option and more affordable. We didn't pick Mimecast for its DR capabilities, but now we're glad that we did."

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