Tips on preparing school data for the unexpected

Data backup is a crucial step in IT preparedness.

While student safety remains schools’ top priority during threats of natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, school administrators and IT leaders must also ensure that they take measures to protect valuable student and school data.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, knocking out power and, along with it, school districts’ access to technology and data centers. Devastating tornadoes, including the 2013 tornado in Moore, Okla., and the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo., rocked school communities.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) launched its IT Crisis Preparedness Leadership initiative in 2008 after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and other catastrophic events. The initiative gives school administrators and technology leaders free resources to help school systems plan for and respond to the next crisis, focusing on the role of technology leaders, identifying best practices, and devising strategies for shutdown and startup processes.

(Next page: Important steps school administrators should take)CoSN’s IT Crisis Preparedness Leadership website includes information on what a school’s or district’s planning process should include: plans for disaster mitigation and prevention before disaster strikes; communication and continued availability of services during a disaster; and following a disaster, evaluation of the plan’s and ongoing planning’s effectiveness. The website resources emphasize the importance of communication to ensure that all involved understand their designated role in the event of a crisis.

The site also includes a 10 Step Technology Recovery Checklist to help IT and school administrators. The checklist includes important actions such as contacting critical IT vendors immediately, accessing data stored on old servers even if the servers are damaged, and contacting off-site data backup providers to alert them to the situation.

“Sadly in the past several years, cities and communities nationwide have been wrought with severe devastation by natural disasters, from hurricanes on and up the Gulf and East Coasts, to flooding along the Mississippi, to Western fires, to tornadoes across the Midwest and South, including very recently in Moore, Okla. These unfortunate, still raw realities necessitate that school technology leaders are actively prepared for the next catastrophe to strengthen student safety and maintain business continuity throughout their districts,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “Provided at no cost, our resources help to equip K-12 leaders with the knowledge and foresight needed to think ahead of the next crisis and prepare for the unexpected.”

When it comes to securing and restoring data, school administrators should make electronic and paper copies of vital records and recovery plans, and should maintain offsite data storage and data centers. Testing an offsite data backup provider’s disaster recovery plan is a good idea, too.

The website also includes planning and recovery tips and features case studies detailing the experiences and best practices of other school administrators K-12 technology officers. For CoSN members, there are additional materials available at a cost, including a planning workbook containing worksheets that guide chief technology officers through each step in the planning process.

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