Disaster recovery organization says Toronto needs to prepare

The Toronto-based not-for-profit Disaster Recovery Information Exchange has called for the businesses, government, and emergency services of Toronto to band together to provide a disaster-proof front against catastrophes, but some local IT vendors, while enamored of the idea, are skeptical of its feasibility.

“We’ve watched with horror and interest the events in New York, Madrid, and London where it’s not just the cities responding, but the critical infrastructure organizations and people. As we watched, we wondered, ‘Would Toronto respond well?’” said Michael Smith, president of business continuity consulting firm ReadySmith and co-chair of the Toronto Incident Management Exercise (TIME) initiative.

DRIE’s current plan of attack is to consult Toronto stakeholders — including infrastructure providers (the water and power companies, food outlets), private sector companies, telecommunications providers, government representatives, and first response personnel (firefighters, police officers, paramedics), and the Red Cross — about their disaster recovery plans and then work to consider ways in which these approaches could be integrated so that nobody (or nobody’s businesses) will fall through the cracks.

“Of the critical infrastructure companies, 80 per cent are privately owned and many just don’t know what to do. That scares me,” said Smith.

DRIE has sent letters out to 200 Toronto organizations, requesting their participation in DRIE’s disaster-preparedness planning, including the Toronto Incident Management Exercise (TIME) . This initiative would see interested stakeholders gathering in 2008 for a “walk-through” of a few possible disasters that would see those present talk out the how to deal with the situation and make sure everything is covered.

According to Smith, there are already 20 organizations who have signed on to be a part of the project’s working committee, including provincial ministry representatives and people from major banking institutions.

Smith said that he is unaware of the current state of disaster preparedness in Toronto. “I don’t know — that is disturbing,” he said. He said that, in his 23 years of disaster recovery consulting, he has found that the vast majority of businesses don’t really understand what will happen to them during a disaster. For instance, said Smith, many IT people don’t factor in the fact that, when a fire is raging in their building, their IT operations are at the mercy of the firefighter’s prerogative. “They’re not just going to let you go in and get those disk drives — all they care about is the people,” said Smith.

Storagepipe Solutions‘ president and CEO Steven Rodin has seen this lack of preparedness during in his tenure running his online backup company. “Many don’t have a business continuity plan or full data recovery plan in place,” he said.

But Smith hopes this ongoing discussion and eventual gathering would be key in getting a grip on the state of the city’s readiness for a crisis — and start getting everyone on the same page.

This is one of the keywords of DRIE’s manifesto: integration, integration, integration. When it comes to the current state of cohesiveness, Tim Margeson, general manager of CBL Data Recovery Technologies (who is definitely on board for the TIME), said that Toronto may have a solid amount of businesses boasting decent data recovery plans, but there is no communication between them. “They’re pretty separate right now. Each place has its own plan in place, sometimes down to the departmental level. There’s no consistency across the board, There has to be consistency,” he said.

Rodin said that TIME’s goal of raising awareness about the importance of a solid business continuity plan is a good one, and that Toronto could, as a whole, really benefit from common ground rules and targets when it comes to disaster recovery. “But there are some aspects of disaster recovery that are tailored to specific institutions, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Rodin.

While a fan of the idea behind TIME, George Kearns, president and CEO of Fusepoint Managed Services is also leery of the feasibility of achieving consistency.

“This is like planning for the Olympics,” he said, pointing out that a project this huge could take a very long time. “It’s obviously going to be a challenge-getting something of this magnitude moving is somewhat risky. This can’t be achieved by a bunch of people doing it in their spare time-it’s gonna need government funding.”

The issue of funding also plays a part when it comes to small and medium-sized business, according to Margeson, who said that many SMB’s do not want to use precious funds on costly data recovery plans, meaning that this sector could be left behind when it comes time for the TIME.

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