UW News

October 12, 2006

People are first priority in C&C’s emergency plan

UW News

Even in the high-technology world of the UW Computing & Communications organization, when it comes to emergencies, people will always come first.

“Our highest priority is the protection of our people, accounting for all of our staff,” said Scott Mah, UW assistant vice president, who oversees C&C service delivery and support. “And then beyond that it would be to do our best to protect our ability to provide critical services in support of the University — it’s people, and then the operations after that.”

And like many campus units and departments whose work affects the hour-to-hour operations of the University, the people at C&C are planning contingencies to keep operations — in their case the campuswide computing and communications — going in the event of a disaster.

They start by being prepared themselves, Mah said, at work and at home. Every staffer at C&C has a three-day emergency kit on hand, and the organization also has stressed preparedness and planning at home. Employees won’t be able to do their jobs if they don’t know their families and homes are safe, Mah said.

Mah said that unfortunate incidents of the past few years — such as the Urban Horticulture and Educational Outreach fires locally and the ravages of Hurricane Katrina nationally — have been motivating factors for the department to keep improving emergency plans. From the two fires, Mah said, “we incorporated lessons learned and tried to be more ready next time.” And all such events, he said, are “natural learning opportunities.”

Mah said, however, that the work of C&C is designed to dovetail with the emergengy planning provided by Steve Charvat and the UW’s Office of Emergency Management.

Here are a few steps that have already been taken, from information provided by Mah’s office:

  • Phones: The UW phone system has a minimum of eight hours battery backup from emergency power generators, and has been designed to be redundant and geographically diverse. The UW gains much flexibility by using both traditonal land-based and Internet-based communications tecyhnologies in its network.
  • Data center: The UW’s primary data center is equipped with a diesel generator that can operate for a full week at full load (and indefinitely, given a fuel supply). The center is equipped with security features to protect electronic components and additional protection for extremely sensitive systems. The facility is also equipped with fire and water damage-prevention systems, and security is being enhanced with federal Homeland Securify money.
  • Critical systems backup: The UW is prepared to run its critical business transcactions from another site should the University lose operating capacity at the main campus. Mah said plans also are under way to have UW systems mirrored at another site in a different sesmic zone so resources can be switched over in an emergency or quickly recovered. Additional remote and redundant systems will be added.
  • Testing: The UW contracts with computer facilities in Pennsylvania and Arizona that run periodic tests on different critical systems, software and hardware, to make sure they can be reconstructed to function at a backup facility.

Mah said he and his staff learned a lot from Katrina disaster. “Katrina highlighted the need for regionwide preparedness, and on not relying on an infrastructure that might not be there.”

Some other improvements are more in the work-in-progress stage, such as a phone line for UW employees to call in and report themselves safe in the event of a disaster.

Mah said a Web presence located outside the Puget Sound has already been created, at www.emergency.washington.edu. Additional content for the site is still being developed, but it is operational with a simple message the the UW is operating under normal conditions. It’s a good site to bookmark.

As they are for units campuswide, emergency preparations at C&C are still under way. “We’re doing everything we can do reasonably within the limits of our resources to make everyday operation as robust as possible,” Mah said.

“There’s a lot more work to be done, but the good news is that we are working together.”

  • Emergency information by phone: 206-UWS-INFO (897-4636) for the Seattle area, 1-866-UWS-INFO (897-4636) for outside the Seattle area.