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Keeping Critical Care Connected

November 1, 2006
by David Reid
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The Society of Critical Care Medicine used technology to keep moving in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane that killed at least 1,417 people. The damages from Katrina are estimated to be $75 billion, making it the costliest recorded hurricane in U.S. history. Disasters, whether natural or man-made, reinforce the need for rock-solid communications in the wake of catastrophic events. Technology and, most importantly, connectivity, plays a vital role in the aftermath of a hurricane like Katrina. A big part of preparedness focuses on the integration of business continuity planning into enterprise-level initiatives.

Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., an IT research firm, estimates that less than 25 percent of large enterprises have comprehensive business continuity management programs, and just 50 percent have comprehensive disaster recovery programs. Gartner also states that those that do not have such programs are on a collision course with destruction.

During the disaster recovery efforts for Katrina, the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) worked closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and National Institute of Health (NIH) for volunteer relief efforts. The SCCM received a request from NIH to collect and provide names of volunteers who could make a two-week commitment for relief efforts. So the organization immediately solicited volunteers on its Web site.

Soon after, SCCM servers were hit hard by large numbers of prospective volunteers accessing its site. Onsite staff members used keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) technology to monitor and troubleshoot the servers for error messages and problems, eliminating any network downtime. The hardware-based KVM switch can access and monitor multiple computers, servers and peripherals from a single KVM console. KVM solutions enable secure local and remote server access and management of multiple servers.

Ultimately, 250 volunteers met the criteria and were successfully deployed at the Astrodome in Houston to set up field hospitals and tend to the medical needs of survivors. If SCCM had not installed KVM solutions, it would have been a nightmare to diagnose servers for errors. KVM solutions were an integral part of the relief team during that critical operation.

With nearly 13,000 members worldwide, SCCM is the largest multi-professional organization dedicated to ensuring consistency in the practice of critical care medicine. SCCM was founded in 1970 when 29 physicians with a keen interest in the care of the critically ill met in Los Angeles to form an organization committed to meeting the needs of extremely ill patients. This Chicago-based society is the only multi-professional organization devoted exclusively to the advancement of intensive care though excellence in patient care, education, research and advocacy.

SCCM is a tech-savvy organization as evidenced by its deployment of customer relationship management (CRM), use of IP telephony services that enable employees and volunteers to work from home or on the road, and operation of a variety of online discussion forums.

Plus, SCCM was one of the first organizations of its kind to offer a range of information via RSS and audio/video podcasts. SCCM currently houses 26 Dell, Compaq and Intel servers running on Windows 2003 with Microsoft SQL managed by a five-person IT staff that backs up all data on the servers — just under 1 terabyte (TB) — each day.

SCCM heavily relies on technology to leverage its small staff in an effort to distribute information and educational materials, as well as track available volunteers in the event of natural disasters like Katrina.

Given the small size of its data center and the need to expand the number of servers, the society researched KVM solutions to eliminate the clutter involved with connecting a keyboard and monitor to each server. Without KVM, SCCM was unable to manage a large number of servers from a single device. It would have been impossible to fit 20-plus monitors in its already compact server room.

The society needed KVM solutions that would not consume precious rack space yet also provided reliability when faced with adverse situations. SCCM looked specifically for KVM solutions that featured full keyboard and mouse emulation and could tolerate server reboots when not active on the switch.