Disaster-recovery planning is a foul-weather friend.

It's only important when things go haywire -- whether another hurricane season is looming off the Southern coastal states, nasty tornadoes are wreaking havoc in the Midwest, or there's river-swelling rainfall in the West.

A solid disaster-recovery plan is designed to breathe life back into a devastated city. Even though such events can disrupt many cities and counties at once, it's typically every jurisdiction for itself when it comes to getting back on track.

That mindset is changing, especially in planning for disaster recovery in IT. Governments have started working together to make sure each other's mission-critical applications are available after a disaster hits.

No Gambling in Nevada

In early April 2006, Nevada officials announced the Nevada Shared Information Technologies Services project (NSITS), designed to radically reshape the way jurisdictions protect critical applications from failure in case of a disaster.

The NSITS will let government entities and agencies tap shared-use facilities to safeguard IT assets. Nevada officials said the problem is that individual government computer facilities and systems can only handle basic backup and systems recovery technology, leaving agencies and information systems vulnerable in a disaster.

Terry Savage, Nevada's CIO, said four agencies are currently involved in the project -- the state's Department of Information Technology; Clark County, Nev.; Las Vegas; and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Other public-sector entities in the state will be invited to participate in the NSITS once the project is up and running.

Savage said Las Vegas, on behalf of the three other partners, released an RFP for a feasibility study examining the alternatives for deploying the NSITS. The study's results are expected by September 2006.

Savage said the Las Vegas area seems ideal for a shared-use facility for state agencies because of its distance, nearly 450 miles, from the state capital of Carson City -- given one of the first rules of disaster recovery is that the chosen facility must be far enough away from the disaster zone so as to not be damaged by the same event.

Conversely Carson City is the ideal place to locate a facility to safeguard Las Vegas' data and applications for the same reason.

For now, the details of what form the NSITS will take and where the shared-use facilities will be housed are necessarily hazy, Savage said, because the four agencies won't act until the study is completed.

"Conceivably the feasibility study could come back and say, 'You guys are nuts. This isn't feasible. You can't do it,'" Savage said. "We don't believe that, obviously, but if the study does come back that way, we'll go do something else."

The partners will wait until the study is complete before defining funding options and guidelines for customer use, or making location and building plans.

"If the study comes back with the finding that this is something that can work, then we'll start looking at actual requirements and definitions, and then play out the various location options against the requirements and what meets the requirements best for the minimum cost," he said. "We won't get to that stage before early 2007."

Savage said the 2007 legislative session is the target for seeking funding for the shared-use facilities envisioned by the NSITS project.

Form and Function

The NSITS builds on earlier work done by the state in creating a communications steering committee to push interoperability in Nevada radio communications.

"We've been working with a number of jurisdictions around the state in radio communications interoperability for several years," Savage said. "Last year, we got the first communications interoperability plan ever in the state passed by the Nevada Homeland Security Commission.

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor