If you fail to plan then plan to fail, says the old saw.

The IT team at York Region, however, has its own take on that saying.

An IT and infrastructure failure, for any significant length of time, is just not an option, the municipality has developed detailed plans on how to bounce back in case a failure – or disaster – does occur.

Their strategy, in fact, is quite unique. York claims its IT Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) is the first program of its kind implemented by any municipality in Canada. York Region is one of Ontario’s 13 Regional municipalities.

The DRP deals with emergency response and recovery actions in the event of unforeseen “disasters.” These include computing services interruption, loss of utility services, building evacuation, or a catastrophic event such as a major fire, according to an Apr. 12 report.

“We can’t afford to let residents down without providing the right services for them,” says York Region Chair, Bill Fisch. “We know that technology today goes a long way towards running the very services a (region or municipality) provides.”

The IT Services Branch provides the IT infrastructure on which services worth more than $1.7 billion annually are delivered to residents.

According to Fisch, an IT disaster could disrupt essential services such as water supply, waste water management, health, transportation, and ambulance services, and traffic light systems, to name a few. The DRP, he said, is designed to prevent this.

The impetus behind the project was the perceived lack of readiness to respond to recent local disasters including SARS and the blackout.

“The past three or four years have been really interesting in terms of disasters – there have been disasters everywhere,” said Fisch. “(York Region) has also faced some, not to the extent that others have, but certainly SARS and the blackout.”

Those are the things that are on top of mind, and policy makers must realize that they had better make sure things are under control, Fisch noted.

He cited one specific incident – a major leak from a burst pipe at the York Regional offices three years ago that barely missed damaging York’s data centre. It happened on the fourth floor, and York’s computer centre was on the third floor.

“I think (York Region) staff realized these things could happen anywhere and you have to be ready,” Fisch said.

He said while over the past several years, York Region has been a leader in many different areas, the disaster recovery program was unlike any previous initiative.

When you are the first off the block with a $1,000,000 project, he said, the first question you ask yourself is, “if nobody else is doing this, why would I be doing it?”

He acknowledged that this was a tough question to get over. “If you feel you can lead in a lot of different areas, and I do, this definitely being one of them, you don’t worry about whether anybody else has done it — you need to do it.

Fisch expects other organizations observing York’s success in this area will follow the region’s lead.

Related link:

Disaster planning requires input from IT

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