During Tuesday's terrorist attack on the United States, the Internet demonstrated that it is capable of fulfilling its function as a means of communication during a crisis. Every business should consider the Internet an integral component of its communications infrastructure.
During an emergency, a business will employ every communications path available. Although parts of the Internet use telecommunication facilities, the manner in which messages are routed makes the Internet less dependent on a single enterprise, carrier or geographic location.
The Internet survives through redundant design, as a network of networks. In the event of an emergency, enterprises must use Internet communications --for example, e-mail, instant messaging and Web sites--because such facilities enable real-time or near real-time information exchange.
At the outset of an emergency, a company's IS organization should quickly assess which systems and links are operational and, as required, reinforce the performance and capacity for each Internet system. Throughout the emergency, the IS organization should monitor Internet systems for degradation caused by service interruptions and traffic surges.
For example, if bandwidth becomes constrained, businesses can take nonessential applications offline for the duration of the emergency. If communication paths become flooded, businesses can limit nonessential communications to avoid compromising critical communications. Businesses can meet even highly secure communications needs over an inherently insecure infrastructure as long as they take measures to protect or encrypt the content.
Businesses must implement a strategy for employing all communications media available to account for all group members, whether they are on site or not. Since such activities will integrate disparate message streams, administrative personnel and procedures must employ special handling procedures to eliminate gaps and redundancies that can occur when the information is aggregated.
Businesses should expect to provide relaying services and act as communication forwarding points for parties in need of assistance. They should perform this function not only for employees and business partners but also for legitimate interested parties such as government officials and family members.
Many businesses have communities of instant-messaging users that often employ one or more of the most popular consumer instant-messaging systems--AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ or MSN Messenger. In many situations, users have installed instant messaging without their company's sanction. Nevertheless, in an emergency, instant messaging can provide an essential method for real-time Internet communications.
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Net offers lifeline amid tragedy
The Internet forms the lifeline for business communications--one that may work when others do not. Companies must develop business and technology processes for integrating Internet and other communications system so that lives and property can be protected in circumstances where reaction time counts most. For businesses, the Internet is no longer optional.
(For a related commentary on disaster recovery recommendations, see Gartner.com.)
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