Strength Is Born of Adversity - Pandemic Flu Contingency Planning
By Greg McNeal, Chief Technology Officer
“Strength is born of adversity.” This maxim is good advice for daily living. For every adversity we face, we have the opportunity to strengthen ourselves against that specific adversity, as well as to improve our general ability to face other challenges. So it is with the recent alerts of a potential “swine flu” pandemic.
In late April, public health and emergency management officials in Maine directed all state agencies to make contingency plans for “swine flu” that could lead to widespread office closures, as a preventative public health measure to limit the spread of the virus. All teams in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) responded quickly by ratcheting up their business continuity/ disaster recovery (BC/DR) planning.
On April 30 th a special 2-hour session on pandemic flu preparedness took place which involved all areas within OIT. Each area had already done some planning internally, and this combined session was the opportunity to focus on inter-team coordination and communications. The CIO's office focused on communications with the Governor and state agencies. The Agency Information Technology Directors (AITDs) focused on identifying mission-critical systems and mission-critical personnel, to ensure continuity of government. Core Technology focused on how to sustain those mission-critical systems and personnel through server support, network connectivity, remote access, and providing more laptop computers in case large numbers of people were working from home.
Within Core Technology, the managers and the “ Incident Command Center ” team met every morning for a week. A 28-point action plan was produced, which has some pandemic-specific actions, but also fine-tunes and updates our general business continuity/ disaster recovery (BC/DR) plans. A big concern for Core Technology was how to ensure technical support – and particularly data center operations which run 24x7 – in the event of building closures directed by public health officials, to restrict the spread of the virus.
In case of widespread closures or absenteeism, agencies were asking how quickly we could provide laptops for people working from home, as well how much we could increase our capacity to support remote log-in. Currently, we have 4,300 laptops deployed to state employees, and we have the capacity to set up and deploy at the rate of 50 laptops per day, if needed. For remote access, we currently have licensing for 500 Juniper connections, which has been sufficient for “snow days.” In response to “swine flu” alerts, Juniper (our remote log-in vendor) has issued OIT a temporary license for up to 10,000 concurrent connections, at no cost to the state. This temporary license key will expire on May 27, but they have agreed to grant an extension if required by the State of Maine to support widespread working from home due to the pandemic flu. If a massive number of remote connections are realized, we will have to monitor network traffic volume to ensure that actual network bandwidth has the capacity to handle the high number of remote connections.
In conclusion, as of May 12th, there have been 3,000 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus in the United States , and unfortunately, three deaths attributed to the disease. We all hope that this epidemic will not materialize. But, we are stronger for it, because it represents a real life opportunity to improve our contingency planning in general. Whatever the next event is – whether a health alert or a fire that takes down part of our critical infrastructure – we will be more prepared as a result of the real live contingency planning we did in the past three weeks.
For me, the real news story is that OIT has exhibited an extraordinary team effort. In collaboration with agency staffs we have ensured a level of preparedness toward the continuity of government for State agencies, and the citizens we serve should we face an emergency situation.