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Nothing concentrates the mind like disaster, and September’s terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., prompted information technology types and their corporate overseers to review their recovery plans. Shockingly, some had none. Others weathered the crisis pretty well and managed to be up and running quickly, even though offices in and around the World Trade Center were obliterated. So what’s the lesson? Mobility and redundancy is good. Centralization isn’t. Let’s call this the Controlled Chaos Theory. A good reference point is the way the Internet managed to distribute news and to function after the tragedy. Because of its decentralized, seemingly anarchic nature, administrators managed to route cybertraffic around “ground zero” in downtown Manhattan. As a result, people were able to send e-mails to friends, loved ones and business associates, and Web sites gave us regular news updates. Compare the Internet’s performance that day with phone service to and within New York, which relies more on central switches. It basically broke down, as both cellular and regular service staggered under the load. As an in-house lawyer, you probably have some involvement in your company’s planning for disruptions and disasters. And as a law-firm client, it’s your job to make sure that the outside firms with whom you do business are doing the right thing with your sensitive company data and documents. Here’s a quick rundown of the possibilities. SEND IT AWAY It may be a networked world, but our important data usually live in a central location. For computers, this means a locked, climate-controlled area that information technology people are fond of calling the “data center.” Inside is the server farm, with super-PCs containing all of the databases, accounting information, e-mail systems and all of the other stuff that we’ve grown to rely upon. Any competent system administrator has a backup scheme. The data on the server’s hard drives is duplicated, usually on a “mirror” drive, plus with a tape backup. But make sure that someone’s doing this regularly and systematically. And having backup tapes labeled neatly, and stored like little soldiers in the data center, won’t do your company or outside law firm any good if the office is destroyed. It may sound corny and low-tech, but make sure someone trustworthy is charged with physically taking the tapes home, or somewhere else. Or do it virtually: Copy the data periodically to a remote location, either across town, or in another city or locale altogether. System types can do this via the Internet, or by secure, dedicated broadband lines. How your company proceeds depends on your budget. But that’s only half the job. Backup software is wonderfully automated, and lulls people — even computer geeks — into a false sense of security. Make sure not only that backups are done, but that they’re tested regularly, to make sure that the right kinds of files are being copied and are actually usable by the average computer user. And demand nothing less than a full backup, a virtual photograph of what you’ve got. BE MOBILE Okay, so your precious data is backed up somewhere at the end of a high-speed line in Montana. But something happens that wipes out the legal department’s computers. You’re basically stuck with a car with no steering wheel or gas pedal. It’s time to make sure that you’ve got the controls somewhere. Your IT department should do two things. There should be a dummy office somewhere else, with at least some computers fully configured to work with the software you need. That means system software, applications — and broadband Internet access. But that’s not enough. Your employees might not be able to reach the satellite office. Many New Yorkers were stuck at home for days as city authorities rerouted subways and ferries and closed roads and bridges. So identify your key employees and send them home with laptops. Today’s models are just as good, if not better, than the big monitors and CPUs at everyone’s desks. And the difference in price over comparable desktop systems is less than it used to be. You may have to ensure that those employees’ home phone systems are up to the task, too. If your budget can handle it, provide DSL or cable modem access for them. TAKING IT PERSONALLY One of the disadvantages of having a laptop in every home office is that, left to their own devices, people will jot down important notes or work on documents late at night and not bother to connect with the office network to send them in. And computers, even modern, fast ones, can be counted on to crash and take files down with them every so often. So you — and your department — need to take some personal backup responsibility. Your IT department should also supply a backup device for each laptop. It’s pretty easy now to connect and use one, even for the computer-phobic. Modern USB (universal serial bus) connections let you plug something in and use it right away. What kind of device? It comes down to ease and durability. The choices are between those that use recordable CDs, or those using a hard drive substitute, such as a Zip drive. CDs are somewhat more durable and easier to store. But “burning” CDs takes longer than copying files to a Zip. PEOPLE POWER Having the right equipment, shadow networks and satellite offices can go a long way toward preventing data meltdown. But all those laptops and redundant servers won’t mean much if the people using them aren’t properly trained and drilled. It’s everyone’s fantasy that technology should become transparent and second nature, but we’re not there yet. Someone I know managed, on Sept. 11, to get out of the World Financial Center, just across the street from the World Trade Center, because he remembered that the building had a side emergency exit that led down to a ferry dock. So you’ll need to create and implement tech fire drills. Make sure your IT staffers periodically pretend that the main office has been destroyed, and have them set up computers in a remote location and ensure that the backups work. And make sure the newly laptop equipped are well versed in connecting to the network from home, and know how to copy crucial files, either to the network or to a backup device. With the right training, procedures and equipment, you can have good “chaos” — a loose network with lots of extra capability in it — instead of pandemonium. CHECKLIST: GRILL THE EXPERTS � How is our data backed up? � Is it sent off site? How? � Are backups incremental or complete? � Do you test them systematically? � Do we have alternative space equipped with Internet and network access and working computers? Corporate Counsel senior editor Anthony Paonita was a computer system administrator in a previous career. E-mail: [email protected].

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