[ISN] Amid Katrina chaos, one company struggles to keep going

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Thu Sep 1 05:16:07 EDT 2005


By Marc L. Songini 
AUGUST 31, 2005 

As floodwaters continued to flow into New Orleans today and officials 
in the Gulf states predicted a death toll from Hurricane Katrina that 
could reach into the thousands, companies that were forced to evacuate 
by the storm struggled to get their operations up and running 

Among those scrambling to stay in business is Integrated Data Systems 
Inc., a New Orleans-based integrator and hosting services provider. 

"I don't think anyone has ever coped with anything like this before. 
The magnitude is pretty enormous," said Robert Leithman, president of 
Integrated Data Systems. 

Leithman -- who left the city along with most of its residents ahead 
of the storm -- said by cell phone that he and his staff are in the 
process of getting his customers back online. The 18-person company, 
which has backup facilities in several cities in the U.S., now has 
basic Web access, instant messaging and Hotmail e-mail capabilities 
and is looking to get the back-office systems of its customers live. 
Among those companies is New Orleans-based Tabasco sauce maker 
McIlhenny Co., for which Integrated Data Systems set up a temporary 
Web site for customers and e-mail access for employees. 

"We've got them ripping along right now," Leithman said today. "Things 
are far from being back to normal, but at least were getting the 
semblance of it." 

The main problem for companies in the region is that connectivity and 
telecommunications are down. "Even with a good plan, which we had, 
there were still some things we didn't expect, [such] the lack of the 
ability to communicate." After Katrina hit the Louisiana, Mississippi 
and Alabama coasts on Monday, communications virtually ceased. While 
some cell phone users were able to make outgoing calls, they couldn't 
receive calls. That forced company employees to buy prepaid cell phone 
cards for incoming messages. 

Even before the storm approached Integrated Data Systems had disaster 
recovery plans in place, with procedures based on lessons learned 
after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Among those lessons: Make 
sure company assets and hardware are distributed geographically. The 
9/11 attacks taught the company, for instance, to have its backup 
tapes located in different places, Leithman said. "This was not as 
shocking [as 911], but it's a lot larger in scope and size," he said. 

One of the company's hosting centers -- near the stricken New Orleans 
Superdome, where refugees took shelter from the hurricane -- is 
inaccessible. Another, located in a bunker in nearby Metairie, La., is 
live -- but still lacks connectivity, said Leithman. He plans to have 
it checked on, but to communicate via phone requires driving miles 
away to get a line. 

"Even the best-laid plans go awry really quick," said Leithman, who 
had to leave for Florida on Saturday. The trip, which normally takes 
about five hours, took 15 as residents of the area fled the 
approaching storm. Not everyone at Integrated Data Systems was able to 
get far enough away from the storm. Leithman noted that one company 
engineer, who thought he was safe in a location that would be "high 
and dry," had his roof ripped off. 

"The most interesting thing about the process is [that] first, people 
are in shock," said Leithman. "Their houses are gone, their lives torn 
up, and they're worried about their families and things they should be 
worried about. Then they come out and say, 'I have to have a job, and 
what do I do?' We're able to help them. In the meantime, we're not 
thinking of ourselves. It's helpful not have time to think about it." 

And even as people struggle to come to grips with what has happened in 
and around New Orleans, Leithman said he is already looking ahead -- 
trying to learn the lessons from the ongoing disaster. 

Next time, for instance, he said he plans to buy satellite phones to 
ensure that communications remain in place. During an earlier 
hurricane, Integrated Data Systems had rented satellite phones at the 
last minute. Katrina didn't give the company time to get them. 

"I promise to own them next time around. They'll be in our 
possession," he said. 

Elsewhere in the region, companies such as Harrah's Entertainment 
Inc., which had three casinos in the region -- one in New Orleans, one 
in Biloxi, Miss., and one in Gulfport, Miss. -- shut down operations 
last weekend. In doing so, the Las Vegas-based gaming company moved 
processing for several key systems from a regional data center in 
Biloxi to primary data centers in Tennessee and New Jersey, said Tim 
Stanley, senior vice president and CIO at Harrah's. 

Systems that were rerouted include hotel, casino, events, ticketing 
and convention systems, reservations and VIP call centers, the IT help 
desk, regional data and file servers, e-mail servers, and some network 
and routing infrastructure, said Stanley. Back-office operations such 
as finance and human resources were already centralized in New Jersey 
or in Nevada. 

The company also has a variety of systems located at the affected 
properties that can't be operated remotely, including slot and table 
game systems, sports books, point-of-sale systems, local telephony, 
security and desktop systems -- "not that those really matter, as the 
properties are not open," said Stanley. He added that they aren't 
expected to reopen "for some time." 

Tom Hoffman contributed to this report. 

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