Improving Emergency Preparedness


With a higher than average amount of severe weather predicted for 2012, governments need to be prepared. Whether it’s something as simple as an electrical outage or as disastrous as a hurricane, government agencies need to keep their systems up and running. They also need to quickly notify the right people and continue to update them as events unfold.

 

Emergeny Prep

One of the benefits of the cloud is that it better prepares governments for natural disasters and other emergency situations. Why? It’s because the cloud isn’t where you are. A disaster may strike your city, county or state, but with your information stored off-premises in the cloud, your critically-important data remains safe.

Why Office 365 for Emergency Preparedness?
While both Office 365 and Google Apps store your data in the cloud, Office 365 is the best choice during times of emergency. Some factors to consider:

Experience and support – Microsoft has been providing productivity software to businesses of all sizes for more than 20 years, and has a proven track record of reliable support. In comparison, Google is a newcomer to working with enterprises. The company adapted a consumer offering for business use with the introduction of Google Apps five years ago and continues to depend on advertising for more than 96 percent of its revenue. The company’s reputation for customer support has not been stellar.

SecurityThe security of customer data is a top priority for all Microsoft products. Accordingly, Office 365 was designed right from the start to comply with the most rigorous security practices. It is the first, major, business productivity public cloud service to obtain ISO 27001 certification, the international standard for information security management. The certification affirms that products have the necessary controls in place to ensure that their design and operation are secure. Google, on the other hand, five years after releasing Google Apps, finally obtained the certification last month.

Communication during emergencies – Office 365 makes it easy for government officials to keep employees up-to-date in emergency situations. Using “dynamic distribution groups” that automatically update as employees move offices from building to building, government officials can quickly email employees about emergencies and rest assured their emails reach the right people. With Google Apps, employees must be manually added and removed from email distribution groups.

Continued productivity offline – With Office 365, employees can continue to work even when there’s no Internet access. With Google Apps, offline access is very limited.  Employees can’t create new documents or spreadsheets offline from their desktop using Google Docs. And they can only work offline with the Google Chrome browser. For governments using other browsers, there’s no offline solution for Google Apps. 

Better Prepared for Emergencies of All Kinds
Among the governments that have improved their emergency preparedness with Office 365 is the Tualatin Valley Water District, which provides drinking water to a population of about 200,000 near the City of Portland. Having email operations in the cloud provides the water district with higher assurance that service will remain available during earthquakes and other catastrophes, according to Jim Ure, IT Officer for the water district. 

“As a water utility, we have to be prepared for earthquakes, and still be able to respond,” Ure says. “Having a cloud-based – off-premise – solution increases our emergency preparedness. It’s one aspect of disaster recovery that’s off our plate … our email communications will still be intact.”

Likewise, Office 365 has better prepared Klamath County in the event of electrical outages.  “Before, our IT organization was losing out in multiple ways when there was an outage,” says Randy Paul, Director of Information Technology for Klamath County. “Not only was everybody without service, but I was also forced to pay more money and allocate more resources to figure out how to bring the service back online.”

For officials in Summit County, Utah, it used to take days to restore and recover data when a hard drive or other system went down, says Ron Boyer, the county’s director of IT.  But with Exchange Online, IT staff can “literally fire up a new machine, point it at the cloud, and all their mail comes right back.

“It is just good to know that – when you have a hardware failure – your content can be recovered and reestablished quickly,” says Boyer. “That’s how disaster recovery works in the cloud.”

Government officials at the State of Minnesota say Office 365 helped them prepare for a different kind of emergency – the state government shutdown during the summer of 2011. With 70 agencies that employ 35,000 workers, the state quickly updated its employees by sending email through a distribution list to all state employees in one, easy step.

“If an emergency or another situation happens that requires an organization-wide communication, for the first time leadership can send an email to all employees in the executive branch, without IT staff having to spend significant time to piece together multiple lists,” says Tarek Tomes, Assistant Commissioner for the State of Minnesota. “The state government shutdown in summer 2011 is the most recent example where we needed to update all employees on information that was changing so rapidly.”

We can’t control if and when an emergency strikes. But we can control how well we’re prepared. As one legislator put it, “Despair is most often the offspring of ill-preparedness.” One way governments can prepare for emergencies is by moving to the cloud with Office 365.

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