Monday, October 27, 2014

Facebook To The Rescue

In an earlier article I addressed that one of the most crucial aspects of a disaster recovery plan is communications.  Communications as a whole is so vital most any solder can tell you the lack of effective communications can mean losing a battle.  Granted we are not at war within the borders of the United States but in a disaster the effect can be the same when it comes to safety.

Today a lot of people use some form of smart phone like the i-Phone or one of the Androids.  You see them everywhere you go.  These phones can not only provide telephone communications, but email, text messages and have the ability to surf the web.  All of which can play an important part in disaster recovery or DR.

The first three are pretty obvious in how they can help.  What people don't realize is that by surfing the web so to speak can be an effective communications tool.

On the web exists possibly the most popular social media website known and is growing like a weed.  If you haven't guessed, it is Facebook.

One of the problems with Facebook as I addressed in an earlier article is that people can and do post
photos and sayings that are from questionable to borderline pornographic.  If an employee in your company is viewing something like that at work, you could stand a good chance of having a sexual harassment complaint and law suit filed against your company.

At the same time Facebook can be a great marketing and communications tool as well.  As for marketing on Facebook, that will remain as another matter for a later article.  We are going to address Facebook as a communications tool especially in DR.

To use Facebook as such is really child's play.  You need to create an account with a person's name.  In this case we will use Paula Personnel and for our purposes it will be the human resources department who handles the page. 

Have all your employees added as friends so only they can see what is written on the wall or timeline and no one else.  Personnel, or whoever is in charge of posting logs in as Paula and posts everything for employees, errr friends only.  All the public would see is the profile picture and top banner.  For added security those pictures can be of say a cute puppy and appear to have nothing to do with your business, if you desire.

You instruct your employees that in the event of a major storm or disaster to routinely check the Facebook page for any updates.  And like I mentioned in the beginning with today's smart phones that would not be much of a problem.

Again I need to caution you that you make sure whatever you post is set for your friends list only.  Potential criminals could use that for their own advantage.  So be very careful before you hit the 'post' button.

Facebook, it can play an important role in DR communications and should be another tool in your arsenal.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Communications For Disaster Recovery

One of the most crucial aspects of any disaster recovery plan has to be communications.  Without a reliable communications strategy in place all of the disaster recovery planning and efforts are seriously hampered.

To ensure that you have adequate and reliable communications you should consider various options and have at least two forms available.

First most companies use what is known as a PRI which is their primary form of communicating.  This is a business grade telephone line and can carry several phone calls simultaneously.  In larger companies the would have several PRI's in place just to handle the call volume.   The PRI is a digital circuit and requires the proper equipment to use it which is very common place in many businesses.   

In some aspects that alone can be part of a DR plan.  One of the big down falls of a PRI is that regardless of who your provider is the last mile generally is your local phone company.  This connection will originate at a location in or near your town known as the central office or CO.  Even if you have multiple PRI's chances are that they will all originate from the same CO.

What if the PRI goes down altogether or the CO is rendered inoperable, now what?  A lot of places still use fax machines and most likely those are on what is known as POTs lines.  These are separate from a PRI.  Unlike the PRI the POTs line is old fashioned analog.  A lot of fax machines also have handsets so in an emergency you can use that for communication.  But these too can originate from the same CO.

One company I know of had their PRI fail when someone in the CO accidentally disconnected the service.  They where down for three days while the phone company worked on the problem but still had the fax machines to call out on.  Management did not like that idea so they relied on the next option.

Everywhere we go we see people on cell phones.  These can and should be a part of your DRP.  Although they are pretty reliable these too have drawbacks.

Cell phones are
 very popular
Not considering usage limits from one plan to another, cell phones do have a limited range and the area you are in might have sketchy to no coverage.  As an example in my own town in most of it I get great cell coverage but in another section the coverage is poor at best.

Should a cell tower go down as what happened in many areas of Long Island and in New Jersey due to a lack of power from hurricane Sandy in 2012, the cell phone is useless.

That storm not only took out cell coverage but many land-line phones where affected as well when trees fell on wires.   Even if you did get cell coverage your call still might get through because of this depending if the destination still had land line coverage.

Another form of communication you can add to your DRP are satellite phones.  These are still costly but not
A satellite phone
should be considered
too far out of reach and can make an ideal addition.  Unlike PRI's fax lines and cell phones these do not rely on traditional systems at least on one end of the communications side.  A very big plus for these for the most part is that the range is almost unlimited with the exception below.

Aside from the cost one of the drawbacks with satellite phones is if a satellite is not in optimum position you might not get reliable communications for a short period of time until a satellite appears over the horizon.  This is slowly being rectified as more satellites are being put into orbit.

When you call out on a satellite phone, the signal is picked up by an orbiting satellite, then bounced to a receiving station then it goes over traditional land lines to the destination.  Here lies the second issue, what if the destination so happens to be in the same area where the disaster is located and has been affected by it as well?

Another form of DR communications you might want to look into is actually very old and predates the internet, cell and satellite phones.  That is amateur or HAM radio.

A HAM radio can be daunting
First thing that probably pops into you head when you hear HAM radio is a room filled with complex radios, oscilloscopes, someone using a Morse code key and head phones.  In some extreme aspects this is not far from the truth but that really holds true for someone who is very advanced into the hobby.  But let the truth be known you can obtain a HAM radio that is a walkie talkie and get great coverage.

HAM radio does require that you obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and that can deter someone from going forward.  One of the things that can scare people off is knowing morse code.  A few short years ago you were required to know morse code at a set speed.  That no longer is a requirement in most of the levels of license. 

What you do need to know is some radio and electronic theory which is
A HAM radio can be as
simple as a walkie-talkie
not too hard to master.  The ARRL holds classes for the public so you should look into them as a resource.  I took an on-line self assessment test in how I would fair in taking the test and I got an 80 without picking up a book.  In all fairness being involved in computers on the technical level did give me an advantage. 

At least with a HAM radio available you have the ability to reach out to another HAM radio for assistance.  Some hospitals and police departments are using HAM radio as back up communications but check in your area to see if they do have HAM radio.

One thing that needs to be pointed out that what ever you say on the radio can be listened to by other people so discretion in what you say is strongly advised.

One thing that you might have thought of is right under your nose, but it does require caution in how you use it and that is social media.  Social media can be used for internal communications with your staff provided you take precautions to make sure that only they can see it.  I will address that in my next article.

These are just some of the options that you can use in a disaster and should be added to your arsenal of tools.

(c)2014 William Lewis

Monday, October 13, 2014

Are You Disaster Ready?

Hurricane season is here and the experts foretasted a very mild year.  So far they have been right but we are three quarters through the season.  But that is no reason to slack off of your Disaster Recovery plans for all it takes is just one storm.  Even after hurricane season is over you can still get hit with a disaster ether from mother nature of man made.

Now is the time to re-examine your current DRP line by line to see if there are any potential weak spots and correct those deficiencies.

Let's take a quick look at some of those items that you should address.

Emergency power - battery back ups for PC's, servers, network hardware and telco.  If you have a generator when was it last tested?  If you do not have a generator do you have a plan in place to have one brought in from a provider like Agility Recovery?

Speaking of power, does your staff, or select members know where the circuit breakers are and are they accessible?  You may need to turn off the power in a hurry.

Communications - is your telco system redundant?  Do you have more than one phone line?  Are you using multiple phone providers in case one should fail?  Do you have alternate methods like cell or
A satellite phone should be considered

satellite phones or even a ham radio?  Fax machines are generally on separate lines to begin with, can yours be used as an emergency phone?  Does your plans include using social media?  In a later article I will go into this.

Speaking of communications how up to date are your phone lists?  Any additions or subtractions?  Do you have a phone chain in place to communicate with your staff?  Do you have arrangements to communicate with officials, fire, police and rescue units?  What about vendors, are they part of your emergency communications?

Internet connectivity - how redundant is your internet?  Do you have more than one form like a T-1 and fiber?  Don't forget that in most T-1's the last mile is your phone company regardless of who your provider is and if that central office goes down, you can lose your T-1.  If you use the cloud for all of your data needs, without internet connectivity you will lose access to all of that data.  A second or third line might be something to think about.

Need I mention backups?   Have you tested them by doing a restore?  I used to have a directory containing pseudo data on each server that I used to delete and do a restore for testing.  Do you do the same?  If so when was it last done?

Hardware - are your computers and server imaged for quick restore if a replacement is in order?  Do you have text files with your switch and router settings for quick reinstall?  How fast can you get new hardware?

Fire prevention - do you have enough fire extinguishers and does your staff know how to use them?  Have they been serviced recently?  How are the smoke detectors?  Are the pull boxes on the wall accessible?  Has the alarm system been tested?

Floods - do you have a plan to get critical items off the floor in case of flooding?  Do you know how to turn off the water supply in case a pipe breaks?

Escape routes -  are the emergency exits clear both inside and outside of the building?  Are the doors operating properly ( you would be surprised )?  Is the route to the emergency exits clearly labeled?  Can you find them if the power goes out?  Can people get away from the building in case of fire or flood?

Lighting - how are the emergency lights?  Will they work if the power goes out?  When were they last tested?   Instead of pushing the test button did you pull the power cord to see that they do work?  And how long will the function until the battery is drained?  Are there enough of them around?  Do you have enough flashlights and do they work?  I always had one in my desk and had them attached to the servers plus my iPhone has one.

First aid and medical care - how are your first aid kits?  Do they contain only a few band aids you are
they well stocked?  Are they adequate for your size company?  Does your staff know where they are and are they easily accessible?  Has anyone taken a first aid course?  Do you have a AED in case someone has a heart attack and do you know how to use it?  Taken a CPR class recently?

As long as we are talking first aid, where are your hospitals?  Are any of them trauma centers?  Do you have multiple routes to them in case one is blocked?

Have you reviewed your insurance policies?  Are they up to date?  Will they cover you completely or do you need to add more?  It may pay to talk with your insurance provider.

What about any legal aspects?  What if an employee is hurt or killed?  Something we don't want to talk about but need to.  Are you prepared for any potential litigation that may ensue?  Have you gone over everything with your legal team?

How is your security?  During a storm or other disaster vandals and looters can take advantage of the situation.  How secure are your doors and windows?

Do you know what to do if a shooter enters your building?  Can you get your staff out quickly and safely?  What if it there is no gun but a knife instead?  Do you know what to do?  Don't forget the incident in Oklahoma when a woman was decapitated by a former co-worker in mid September 2014.

What if there is a tornado in the area?  Do you have safe areas to go to in case it strikes?  Again, do you know what to do if one does?

If you have to shelter in, do you have enough supplies, like hygiene items such as soap, paper towels, toilet paper, feminine supplies?  If sheltering in overnight, do you have enough non-perishable food at the ready?  Freeze dried food can last up to 25 years so a small investment can make things bearable for a day or two.  Do you have enough bottled water for your staff?  If you have a water cooler you probably have a few 5 gallon bottles to begin with.

Have simple tools on-hand
Do you have some simple tools available like pliers, hammers both claw and ball peen, vise grips, channel locks, adjustable wrenches, screw drivers both flat blade and phillips, cold chisel and drift punch, and allen keys?  What about duct tape and plastic sheeting or poly-tarp?

Do you or someone know how to remove a door off it's hinges in an emergency?  Or even remove a window safely.  A lot of new buildings have some windows that can be opened with an allen key.

Colocation - do you have a hot site, warm site or cold site that can be used in the event your building is rendered inoperable?  When was the last time you tested it by spending a day working from it?  Do you know all of the routes to get to it in the event one route is blocked?  How fast can you get it up and running?  Does all of your staff know how to get to it safely?

Finally, when did you test your DRP?  Have you gone through drills? Do table top exercises?  Have you done walk throughs?

All of these questions really should be answered any deficiencies should be addressed now before the SHTF, so to speak.

(c)2014 William Lewis 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wearable Technology, it is nothing new

The latest and biggest buzz word around today is “Wearable Technology” and many companies are jumping on the bandwagon. But what is wearable technology?
To put it into simplistic terms, it is nothing more than wearing some form of microcomputer. Right off you are visualizing your desktop or laptop shrunk down to the size of a tie clasp or broach giving you all the computing power you need while being untethered to your desk. Well that part is a long way off. Or is it?
These micro computers have been designed to display the internet in a display you wear on a pair of glasses, or monitor your work out to show with sensors in clothing and display the data on a wrist display, even those that you wear on your clothing that will monitor your exposure to the sun and ultraviolet rays. And a myriad of more coming down the pike. Seems like a lot of new innovations.
Dick Tracy and the wrist TV

Wearable technology was one of the focal points in an old cartoon character, Dick Tracy. Originally he had the two way wrist radio only in later years to have it advanced to a two way wrist TV. And this is long before laptops were invented. Even James Bond had wrist watches that were TV’s, lasers, hi powered magnets, and even remote controls for cars. Only now they are taking fiction and making it into reality.

Wearable Technology really started in 1954 when the first production transistor radio,

Regency TR-1 transistor radio.
Image from Wikipedia
the Regency TR-1 came about. Teenagers the world over now listened to their favorite tunes where ever they were soon to be replaced with Walkman’s, portable CD players, MP3 players and the famous iPod. We have used blue tooth headsets for years with our cell phones or office phones. Some people have worn devices on their wrists to monitor the heart rate during a workout that also calculate how many calories were expended and how much fat was burned off. People have even worn monitors to determine how many miles
Bendix personal dosimeter
they walk in a day. People working in radiology have worn devices for years to determine how many roentgens they have been exposed to.

So wearable technology really is not all that new. Only through the advances of miniaturization and programming are these devices doing things we could only dream about.

But how far can this go? Looking at what is planned to come out, if you bought all of these various devices for different jobs you could wind up looking like the Borg.

The ultimate in Wearable Technology
Image from Wikipedia
A major issue with this new technology especially with devices like Google Glass is how distracting
will it be? This will become crucial when operating a motor vehicle, crossing a busy street or operating machinery. I am sure law makers will prohibit these from being used when operating a motor vehicle.

Google Glass, a benefit or distraction?
Image from Wikipedia
Another big question is how plugged in do you really need to be? Is there some kind of fix you get from being bombarded by all those electrons? I have seen it when the batteries fail on an electronic device a child has and the instant fit that ensues. When the batteries are replaced euphoria now set in as the eyes glaze over watching the video display and listening to the electronically created sound effects. Or when the internet goes down or computer fails how some people show signs of withdrawal.

Maybe this new wearable technology is not a good thing after all. We do need to unplug and let our minds relax and wander. For me, I set my iPad down, walk away from my computers, turn off my iPhone don my drysuit and head to the ocean depths or hop on my motorcycle for a ride to nowhere or even toss a hook into the water and not care if the fish are biting, and even spending time at the observatory gazing at stars. And not forget spending quality time with my wife. Unplugging at it’s best. Something maybe we all need to do instead of watching stock reports on our glasses while driving on the expressway.

(c)2014 William Lewis