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Dust Off Your IT Pandemic Plans

By Pam Greenberg  |  March 5, 2020
Scott McPherson

Scott McPherson has been writing and lecturing about pandemics for 14 years.

McPherson, chief information officer for the Florida House of Representatives, has a wealth of knowledge about the issue that he is happy to share with other legislatures as they consider possible impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

McPherson has a distinguished career history. He has been a technology and communications consultant, headed up early cybersecurity efforts in Florida, and led the state's Y2K preparedness effort, among other positions. He also served in the Florida House in the early 1980s (elected at the age of 25).

On his blog, he has written extensively about the SARS, H1N1v and other influenzas. McPherson says he uses his social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) for curating good articles about the issue, whereas his blog has more of his own commentary. He’s written about how families can prepare, and he lays out different scenarios to consider and prepare for (e.g., what if nature “piles on,” what about overloaded virtual private networks if large numbers of your employees are working from home, etc.).

In addition to reporting on the technical, social and health aspects of the virus, he has specific advice for IT managers and outlines some of the questions they should address. He recommends they “dust off those old pandemic plans.”

“For those of you with pandemic plans, you will probably find the human elements have not changed much. Will you engage work-at-home plans? What defines WORK, anyway? What are your deliverables in a socially distanced environment? I can tell you we have already addressed these issues in my shop and are preparing to test all ways to access our servers and network and VoIP servers. Can our support staff answer calls from home successfully? Can they work on their laptops and access our help desk software? Can our developers code from home successfully?

"Have you adjusted your skills matrix recently? Have you mapped all the tasks an employee performs, and are two to three people able to also perform those tasks? It doesn't mean another person does 100% of those tasks. Quite the opposite: It means you can distribute those tasks across your area so that the work gets done adequately. For flu, we assumed an absentee rate approaching 35-40% at any given time as the virus burns through your community. For this coronavirus, that may be conservative. Or not. We don't know yet. And you don't know who might never come back.

"Now for the supply chain. Apple just announced it was implementing plans to deal with supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. You should also lump your SaaS and cloud providers into that category. You should be surveying all your key suppliers and asking them what their pandemic plans are. If they cannot articulate their pandemic plans, find alternative suppliers. Ditto your cloud partners. What are their pandemic plans? After all, the cloud is just a whole bunch of data centers, full of people, packed into spaces with sealed HVAC systems.

"You need to be asking those questions TOMORROW. You should expect answers the same day. There is no reason to delay doing these things. It is the prudent thing to do.”

It’s not enough just to dust off the plan. Quoting Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The plan is useless; it’s the planning that’s important.”, McPherson says, “Ike's point is that events will never go according to The Plan--but a mature planning process will help you prevail."             

Pam Greenberg covers technology, cybersecurity and privacy issues for NCSL.

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