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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pandemics and the Internet

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on the impact a pandemic might have on Internet access.
Concerns exist that a more severe pandemic outbreak than 2009's could cause large numbers of people staying home to increase their Internet use and overwhelm Internet providers' network capacities.
The report was written specifically to look into the effects that limited or non-existent Internet access would have on the securities industry.  Still, the scenarios painted by the GAO are ones that can affect anyone that has a need for Internet access.

A few years back, I participated in a pandemic exercise that included 3,000 financial industry companies.  Our purpose was to judge the impact of large numbers of employees not being able to come to work, and what that impact would mean to the delivery of financial services nationwide.

It was very eye-opening.

Over the three weeks of the test, we were instructed to periodically "remove" employees from our employment rolls and assess the impact.  For instance, for the first week, we had to remove all employees whose last name started with a G, L, S or V.  We would then put our Business Continuity Plan (BCP) into play if any department was suddenly under-staffed.

The following week, more last-name letters were added to our list, and more employees were "removed".  The moderators of the exercise also added some other twists.  For instance, they instructed us to assume that all elementary schools, high schools and colleges had been temporarily shut-down in an attempt to slow down the spread of the pandemic.

Consider the impact of that decision:  You now have kids with no place to go during the day.  If they are to stay home, many parents would now need to stay home with them, further reducing the number of employees available for work.

Part of our BCP was to identify employees that had jobs which allowed them to telecommute - work from home via the Internet.  It soon became abundantly clear that every other bank, insurance company and securities dealer had the same idea.  Colleges and high schools began offering their courses online or via email, and the Internet soon became overburdened.  Hackers soon recognized how easily they could "hide" because of all of the Internet traffic, and they ran wild.

Accept The Challenge

Does your personal or business emergency plan take major Internet disruptions into account?  How would your daily life change if you couldn't access your online bank account for transfers or bill payment for weeks or months on end?  Email?  VOIP phone system?  Security systems?  Online store fronts?

Copyright 2009 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved.  You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

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