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A New Jersey District’s Preparation for 21st-century Storms

Westfield CIO Brian AukerWestfield (N.J.) Public Schools was closed for over a week after Hurricane Sandy hit on Oct. 29, with immediate power losses in nine of the 10 schools. Located about 25 miles from New York City, Westfield houses data for 6,310 students and over 1,000 employees. CIO Brian Auker worked to ensure that data systems were secure and working again just six days later.

DA: How did your district prepare for the storm?

Auker: We shut down the systems that contain critical data, like our student management system. We tried to keep our web page and email server running for as long as we could for emergency notices and communicating with the staff and parents, and they are configured to shut down automatically in the event of a power outage. Our two biggest data systems are our student management system and the system with payroll, HR, and accounting. We back them up to a remote location outside of the city every night [for the past two years], so that data is automatically stored. If our server is down, the vendor can take the last back-up and put it on the web for us to access in under an hour.

What is the best way to ensure data access and back-up in a storm?

Auker: One option would be to look for a webpage solution located out of the district, which is critical because parents and staff want to remain in constant communication about the status of the schools. We also want to ensure that our on-site systems continue to function, and get a generator to power our server room. It’s a large expense, roughly up to $50,000 for our district, so we could also consider cloud solutions.

What can schools do to prepare for future natural disasters?

Auker: The best thing to do is prepare your system. Make sure you have all up-to-date back-ups, and remove them to a remote location. Shut down all your non-essential systems, like library circulation servers, to minimize damage if there are power fluctuations. Consider the systems you deem critical, and see if there’s any way to set them up remotely.

Alison DeNisco is staff writer.