It should be clear to all Canadians by now that in the twenty-first century, local problems can get very big, very fast.

A small glitch on the electricity grid at just the right time, a SARS-infected passenger on a plane from Hong Kong to Toronto, an ill cow in Alberta, or a bored teenager releasing a piece of malicious code into the wild, and within days the entire country feels the effect. And those effects, as everyone from cattle farmers out west to Ontario high-rise residents will attest, can be swift and severe.

Of course, in our heads we all know this. Perhaps being in IT we’re more aware of it than others. It’s why we’ve kicked around terms like “disaster recovery” or “data protection” for years. As you can see from our front-page story, in this issue we attempted to gauge how IT departments coped in the wake of one disaster in particular, the recent transborder blackout. The consensus is that Canadian businesses rolled with the punches and “responded nicely” as one expert put it.

Of course, as a colleague recently reminded me, when it comes to security issues, no one would ever admit that something went wrong as long as the impact can be hidden. What’s worse, the timing of the blackout neatly coincided with a study which found that 43 per cent of U.S. companies surveyed have no disaster recovery plan in place for their communications systems.

We expect governments to provide our basic services. It’s one reason why they exist, and it’s what we pay them to do. Your business manager expects data to be accessible, 24 hours a day, regardless of the circumstances. It’s why you work there, and it’s what he pays you for.

That means planning for the worst. Terrorism is a global threat and natural disasters happen with little or no warning. Apparently, our aging power infrastructure (specifically in the north east of U.S. and Canada) is at serious risk. What happens in one city can easily affect our jobs thousands of kilometres away.

Several years ago, the word “hero” mysteriously entered business jargon. A hero was the person who delivered under impossible circumstances, or led a project which offered massive but unexpected benefits at the end. There was even a series of software ads based on the concept. But the heroes on Aug. 15 at organizations across Ontario weren’t those who went above and beyond. They were the ones who had done basic due diligence. For them, it was easy to look good since they were well prepared.

Just like those in the dark, who didn’t immediately care why or how the blackout happened, CEOs are unlikely to care how or why the data flow stopped.

At the end of the day, all we want to do is flip a switch.