Are government CIOs prepared for a pandemic?

Like a former, shadowy and formidable enemy, the novel coronavirus has taken on the previous role of the avian flu, which sparked so many disaster recovery and business continuity of operations (DR/BC) scenarios more than a decade ago.

However, unlike the avian flu whose Comet Kohoutek-like appearance never live up to its pearl clutching billing, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, for short, has already caused far greater infections and resulting precautions than the avian influenza strain H5N1 with over 3,000 deaths among 80,000 infected worldwide as of early March 2020.

A century ago, the 1918 influenza pandemic first appeared and was the most severe pandemic in history, killing 50 million people worldwide. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more people died than all the military and civilian casualties of World War I. While no one is predicting a global pandemic at this point, however, it cannot be ruled out.

Media coverage regarding business continuity for CIOs in the face of this new disease has been scant so far, behind the scenes these information leaders worldwide ignore the implications at their peril. Even without such depths of human losses as occurred in 1918 and 1919, significant business disruption is already occurring. In the U.S. airline travel restrictions are in place; businesses are suspending employee travel; conferences, concerts and similar crowd events are being postponed; schools are considering closure and even religious gathering and liturgy are under review.

While DR/BC plans have needed implementing over the last two decades, they has been exclusively local or perhaps regional, primarily weather- or natural disaster-related. A pandemic calling for nationwide DR/BC would be unprecedented.

Nevertheless, when a governor, mayor or even president asks their CIOs if they are comfortable with their DR/DC plans if your central state capitol or federal office campus is closed to employees for weeks or even months, what will your answer be?

Will CIOs be able to seamlessly rollout telework and similar procedures along with a comprehensive portfolio of network, cloud and dedicated hosting capabilities thereby preventing a whole shutdown of critical government functions?

I hope so. Unfortunately, I have my doubts.

This article has been updated to reflect information from NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson regarding the association’s input on this issue some years ago. According to Robinson:

“NASCIO addressed this issue in a 2007 brief on responding to a pandemic emergency,” he said.¬† See https://www.nascio.org/resource-center/resources/pandemic-planning-and-response-for-state-it-wheres-my-staff/

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