UT’s Extensive Emergency Plan in Place

The key to good business is to identify and prepare for possible threats. The University of Tampa has established an Emergency Operations Team (EOT) to create and implement a plan to deal with the issues that the university community could face.

President Vaughn leads the core EOT, and several other senior administration members staff it. The core EOT evaluates situations as they arise and then determine a course of action. The EOT then sends direction to the auxiliary group, consisting of scores of faculty and staff members representing all facets of the university community.

Depending on the severity of the situation, this auxiliary group may have to call commuters to alert them to schedule changes, sandbag or drive students to shelters.

One EOT Core member, Rodney Plowman, the University’s Vice President of Administrative Services, says that while protection of campus assets is an obvious and important goal of the team, the “administration’s commitment is to first provide for the well being of our students, faculty and staff.”

Since the university is almost always populated, the EOT has established protective measures to keep the campus facilities viable for as long as possible while also “minimizing the resources required in an emergency,” according to Donna Alexander, Executive Director of Information Technology at the University of Tampa.

Alexander explained that these measures include a new air conditioning system “to keep the network, cabling and phone system at appropriate temperatures.” The Very Early Warning Fire Protection Systems sets off alarms if that temperature rises beyond set limits.

In the event of a fire, the Gas Fire Repression System activates, dousing the fire with chemicals instead of water, since water would destroy the equipment. Lastly, a loss of power would be overcome with the natural gas generator.

Alexander’s team tests the generator every Monday. The generator has an automatic switch that activates immediately when sensors signal a power disruption.

Confident in these safeguards, Alexander assures students that “the Vaughn Center computer lab will remain open, even if the university suspend[s] operations.”

However, the physical facilities are not the university’s only responsibilities. The EOT has also identified three key systems that must stay online: the e-mail, web site and administrative systems.

E-mail, of course, acts as a vessel of communication for both students and faculty members. The web site serves the pivotal role of keeping parents, resident students, commuters, staff, faculty members and administration abreast of the university’s situation. Administrators can post schedule changes, damage reports or return instructions online.

Administrative systems hold vital records, such as acceptance letters, grades and financial aid. In light of the necessity of these systems, the EOT set out to find a company that could protect the hardware and data.

“To ensure business continuity, remote location of technology systems housing confidential data is standard within the [Information Technology] industry,” Alexander stated

In the words of the IT trade, this means co-location and redundancy or a separate off-site facility for the same type of hardware that uses the exact same programs and stores the same information as the on-site facility.

The EOT chose TelCove, a technology company that provides business critical telecommunications services. TelCove served as the university’s internet service provider for two years before they won the contract for business continuity services. Many factors played roles in the decision to award the contract to TelCove.

“The [university’s] experience with TelCove has been very good: they have proven to be extremely responsive and flexible, and [the university has] a great relationship with the local TelCove team,” Alexander explained.

Additionally, the fact that the university currently utilizes TelCove’s internet service “significantly reduces the complexity of the network configuration and design,” according to Alexander.

TelCove offers facilities throughtout the eastern United States, including Tampa. Using the local co-location facility provides the university immediate access to the equipment.

Not only does this ease the transition, but it also enables the support and configuration that form the critical first steps of the disaster recovery plan. In addition, in the event that the university’s staff are not available to troubleshoot, TelCove has technical personnel capable of doing so.

While in the same area, the TelCove facility does not face the same threats as the university’s on-site facilities. The TelCove location has a higher elevation and their structures have been built to specifications that would allow them to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

The facility also has greater accessibility because it can be reached by three major highways and because the company has been classified as a public facility, granting it priority access to supplies and areas that would otherwise be restricted in emergency situations.

Just in case, the facility has a redundant air conditioning system, a generator, a two week supply of generator fuel and contracts to assure the supply of more fuel should the need be prolonged.

TelCove has the ability to provide internet service from multiple providers so that the failure of one would not result in a loss of service to customers. Because of these types of measures, TelCove maintained 100 percent service availability during Hurricane Katrina and the Northeast Electrical Blackout, as well as other national disasters.

TelCove boasts security from the human element as well as the natural one. The company’s security measures include a code access alarm system that is combined with a card controlled access system after-hours and an escort for approved personnel. TelCove secures the data with university-managed measures, including user name and password controls.

TelCove currently serves as the university’s ISP, and the university has moved its primary web site, http://www.ut.edu, to the off-site facility. The web site is fully operational.

The university chose to move this system first because it assures that the site will remain available as the primary source of updated information about the status of classes and operation. The university has also set up an alternate web site hosted outside Florida to which site visitors would be redirected should the web servers at TelCove become unavailable.

“The university is in the process of locating duplicate e-mail equipment at the TelCove facility,” Alexander asserted. After the university completes that process, the email system would operate from the off-site facility should the university suspend operations. In that event, students should not experience any interruption of e-mail services.

Eventually, TelCove will provide co-location facilities for the third crucial system, the administrative system. The University intends to create a redundant, scaled-down version of those critical systems, including SpartanWeb, student records and payroll.

Another company, Level 3, recently acquired TelCove. Myles Falvella, TelCove’s Director of Corporate Communications and Product Marketing, says, “If anything, this will be better for the university of Tampa because now instead of having the option of seventy co-location facilities, the university has one hundred and ten possible co-location facilities.”

Falvella claims none of the other changes involved should have any impact on the University or the services entailed in its contract with TelCove.

Even with all that the university and TelCove are doing to secure student data systems, there are still things students can do for themselves. Alexander recommends “regularly back-up computer critical information to external media, install computer surge protectio
n, always log off

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