PROVENANCE: Volume 1, Number 0.b2 - Nov. 20, 1995


- by Guy Robertson, MLS

The following article was originally written in 1993 and published in SECURITY MAGAZINE. It is reprinted with permission of the author.

The author is: a widely published information security and related emergency planning consultant. He is also the corporate librarian-consultant at Thurber Engineer Ltd., and the current Acting Chair of the Library Technician Program at Langara College, Vancouver, B.C. Guy has worked with a wide range of organizations as a disaster planner: insurance companies, credit unions, libraries, and archives... to name a few.

PROVENANCE welcomes Guy Robertson, as an information professional, a contributing writer and as our Managing Editor.

As a professional burglar, I've noted your movements, I know that you work out of your house. I assume that you've spent money and time making certain that no virus can infiltrate your computer. You probably feel safe. You're not. ...

... Have a good time while you can, because when you're away I'm going to remove your sound system, the booze you keep tucked away in the kitchen, your golf clubs, your TV, your camcorder, and your computer. In less than twenty minutes I'll be gone. You can call your insurance agent tomorrow morning. You'll receive a cheque with which you can replace all of your missing toys and hardware. But you can't replace your data. Since you haven't backed it up, you may be out of business.

Let me change my role. I want to go straight. Now I'm a firefighter, and the next time I break into your house my job will be to extinguish the fire that has started somewhere in your home office. The fire must be completely out, otherwise you and your neighbours will still be in danger. To be certain that no further combustion is possible, I'll douse everything with a high pressure hose, including your hard drive. You'll receive another cheque from your insurance agent, and once again you will have lost your data. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's my duty to protect lives before property.

Another role change. This time I'm going to be a civil defense worker. I'm the hero in the hard hat who performs search-and-rescue duties following regional disasters such as earthquakes and floods. My first responsibility is to safeguard your house if I suspect that its structure is unsafe. I know that you want to rescue your valuable data, but your life is worth more. Which would you rather lose?

Enough role playing. I have given you three excellent reasons to make sure that your data are backed up. These reasons apply equally to important data stored in any location. Regular back-up is commonsensical. Unfortunately many information managers consider it to be a trivial chore and in some cases a waste of item. The risk of losing data seems so slight. Remember, however, that the recent floods in the U.S. Midwest came as a shocking surprise to hundreds of businesses that might not survive owing to the loss of their information systems. If you had predicted such dangerously high water levels along the Mississippi River, many people would have called you a crank. Guess who just ran out of sandbags?

The best location for back-up data is in an off site facility with a comprehensive security program. One such is the new Data Base File Tech (DBFT) storage centre on Commerce Circle in Victoria, BC. The foundations of this facility (shown above) will withstand an earthquake greater than 9.5 on the Richter scale, its walls can tolerate winds of 250 Kph, and its bunker-style vaults are set in solid granite some 40 meters above sea level. Fire alarms and the access control system are state-of-the are. Not surprisingly even engineers who know about such things entrust their most valuable tapes, disks, microfilm, photographs, and paper records to this fortress.

There is even a roof-top helipad offering access by air to all the facilities and systems if local roads should ever become impassable.

There are now 45 terabytes of data storage available and the company is preparing to expand this capacity. While some details are strictly confidential, it can be mentioned that there is increasing off-shore interest--especially in Pacific Rim financial circles[emphasis added]--in using this Vancouver Island facility for disaster back-up purposes. It would not be overstating the case to suggest that DBFT hopes to become the hub of the data storage world.

Michael Weston, president of the company, tends to regard vital data storage as very much a public duty.

"What would happen to a regional economy if the local banks lost their transaction and investment records?" he asks. "And what about all the vital data from government ministries, from hospitals and clinics, universities, retail outfits, the transportation industry, and all the rest? If these institutions lose their data, the community is paralyzed.

"Earthquakes are not the only risks," he tells prospective clients. "Businesses lose large amounts of data because of burst pipes, fire, theft, and -- let's be honest -- carelessness. People should take into account every risk, and not just the latest disaster mentioned in the news. I'd like to see much more comprehensive disaster planning in all sectors. Many of the disaster plans that I see are a mish-mash of phone lists and first aid. That's not enough to prepare your staff to deal with even the simplest emergency, and it certainly won't protect your data."

To meet the need for different kinds of post-disaster support, DBFT has allocated several thousand square feet of space for hot sites, ready rooms, and emergency command posts. If a client's office is badly damaged or destroyed, key personnel can resume operations here.

"An office is replaceable, but an information system is not," emphasizes Weston. "Data constitute an institution's nervous system. That's why they cease to exist when they lose their data. They can't function without their corporate brain...But if they provide secure space for their personnel and back-up data, then the corporate thought process can continue, and the institution will survive." - END

Copyright © 1995 - Guy Robertson

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