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What Zebrafish teach us about business continuity

A school of Zebrafish swim inside a tank. When you think about business continuity, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t zebrafish.

Every unit at UW from Astrophysics to Zoology has a need for continuity planning in case of severe weather or a power outage or a different type of tragedy. Knowing what to do and who to call when something goes wrong that could affect the ability to hold classes, care for patients or conduct research is the heart of business continuity at the University of Washington.

Which brings us back to zebrafish. Across the UW’s Health Sciences schools, 15 principal investigators use the tiny striped tropical fish to study everything from vision and hearing loss to cancer and toxicology. Zebrafish are crucial for scientific research because of unique qualities that make them excellent models for studying various aspects of biology and human health.

When a cyberattack shut down the zebrafish’s water system on Dec. 22, 2023, researchers and staff worked together to manually change the water and maintain the correct water quality.

Next, they reached out for help. Because the hack happened right before Christmas, most of the people they would have contacted were out of the office. Moreover, the vendor no longer provided service for the system. UW-IT wasn’t able to help because it wasn’t a UW system. Staff acted quickly to make work-arounds work, but the event was stressful for everyone and resulted in a decrease in colony size to ensure care of the fish.

That’s just one example of the many people and systems that the UW relies on every day. Having a plan for what to do if something goes awry — including at night and during holidays — reduces the impact of the interruption.

UW’s Business, Academic & Research Continuity (BARC) program can assist with building that plan. BARC helps ensure seamless and sustained UW operations during disruptive events by promoting a culture of resilience, mitigating risks and minimizing the impact of incidents. In the past year, UW’s Division of Campus Community Safety has reestablished the BARC program, which is led by Jim Tritten. BARC serves all UW units at all UW locations.

Learn more about BARC in this year’s BARC annual report and watch for a new BARC website this autumn.