Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Timely Topic: Disaster Recovery Plans

On BOP News, Stirling Newberry has brought up the topic of Disaster Recovery policies for organizations. Timely topic indeed.

I wrote this in response:
I've been on an evangelical campaign similar to [the article you link] on disaster recovery policies in the mundane world of campaign politics.

I was working a state race in [state removed] in [a few years back] when [a significant natural disaster] took out electricity, phones, and internet connectivity. We moved the office temporarily to an alternate site outside the district, and spent a few days doing clean-up and catch-up projects while our field operations were suspended.

BUT, that was in a state where the Democratic party uses a server-based, internet-access database for the state Registered Voter List (RVL). Client-server/thin-client/web log-in RVL's are popular in many states across the country, with both parties. Likewise, in Democratic circles, one of the most popular campaign database software packages (think donor and volunteer information) is largely used in vendor-hosted server format.

Translation: internet goes down locally, and you lose your entire campaign records.

We were lucky. It was a busy part of the campaign, but not the very end. Any lists that were needed immanently by phone vendors or mail firms, etc., had already been cut and sent off. All in all, the blackout was a temporary inconvenience for us.

It was even less inconvenient because our IT Director had backed up all of our critical web-based data on a local machine. Daily. At my request.

The exercise was time-consuming, not a lot of fun, regarded as redundant paranoia by many of my colleagues, and required some level of technical expertise to whip the data into a form that was usable on the local level.

But, if the blackout had happened on GOTV (Get out the Vote) weekend--the last weekend before election Tuesday when the field operations of an election campaign go into overdrive--we would have been *sunk* without that data. Turned out we didn't need it GOTV weekend, and during that earlier blackout, we had all the data we needed.

In disaster recovery and data management, redundancy is your friend.

- Basing political campaigns on data hosted on a remote server without a disaster recovery plan is a big risk.

- Most campaigns I've ever worked with had no local data back-up procedures at all (unless I was in a position to implement the procecure myself). This is a stupid risk--fry a server, and your whole campaign is gone.

- Keep in mind that the people we're working hard to elect in those campaigns are the people who make disaster recovery policies as part of their jobs as *elected officials* at the local, state, and national level.