Skip to content Skip to navigation

August Edit Memo: How Much is Enough?

August 15, 2007
by aguerra
| Reprints

The weekend of June 30-July 1 (just prior to the writing of this column) was an active one for terrorists. Over those days, undetonated car bombs were discovered in a busy section of London and a flaming truck packed with explosives was crashed into the entrance of Glasgow airport in Scotland. Again, I, and I would guess many others, were reminded of the fact that our lives can change in a second.

In these cases, manmade disasters were the threat, but in many parts of the United States, it could just as easily be natural ones that change a normal day into a life-changing one.

Guarding against terrorist attacks requires politicians and security officials to find a balance between inconvenience and safety. All of us know how annoying it is that we have to arrive at the airport two hours ahead of our flights, take out our laptops, our toiletries (in a Ziploc bag, with each item under 3 ounces), take off our shoes and sometimes suffer a more thorough bag search. But I would guess most of us accept these things, knowing that when we finally get on the plane, there's a good chance everyone around us only has a safe flight in mind.

But how much inconvenience would we be willing to accept? If instead of two hours, we had to arrive three hours early, or four — would that still be ok? What if we could no longer bring on toiletries of any kind? What if we had to take off more than just our shoes?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the issue of balance in his keynote speech during the recently held Healthcare Financial Managers Association's annual conference in San Diego. In his talk, Powell said that after Sept. 11, he felt the balance moved too far in the direction of tight security. Specifically, he said the new requirements for obtaining student visas were hurting the United States, as they caused frustrated students to look elsewhere for higher education. Our country, he said, was losing out on good students that might have stayed in America after their education and contributed to our prosperity. The security balance, he said, needed to be readjusted.

The issues discussed in our cover package deal with a different type of balance. When it comes to healthcare institutions developing, budgeting, implementing and maintaining disaster recovery plans, a balance needs to be found between the most likely disaster scenarios and the amount of money available to handle them. Based on preliminary discussions (and some common sense), HCI determined that just as all politics is local, all disaster recovery planning is as well. Hospitals in Boston don't worry much about earthquakes, just as hospitals in Los Angeles don't spend extensive time and money thinking about tornadoes. Most say this type of analysis can help organizations spend their money wisely, rather than engaging a cookie-cutter approach.

Disaster recovery, at its core, is much like a large and complex insurance policy. I don't enjoy paying my insurance bill because I don't immediately/tangibly get anything in return. But individuals and organizations that give into this kind of thinking, and put DR on the budgetary back burner, had better be prepared to get burned themselves. Most CIOs realize they are one of the individuals that will be called to account should a disaster befall their organization. I might suggest an exercise, the results of which should make it clear how comfortable a CIO is with his or her DR plan. Imagine being questioned after the event by the representative of a government agency whose task it is to determine preparedness and assign blame. How would the CIO handle such scrutiny? If he/she can truthfully give a response along the lines of the following, I think the individual would have acquitted themselves well.

"I was provided with a certain budget for DR. I felt it wasn't enough so I took the following steps to convince the right people that I needed more to execute my plan. When those additional funds were denied, I allocated the money in the following way, based on what I felt were the most likely disaster scenarios for this organization, combined with best practices gleaned from consulting experts in the field and my peers."

No organization, no country, can guard against every eventuality. As with everything in life, success hinges on finding the right balance. Let our cover package serve as a reminder to search for it.

Topics

aguerra

Anthony Guerra is Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare Informatics. His blog contains story lineups for...