Firms in Hurricane Florence’s Path Rush to Protect Computer Systems - CIO Journal.

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Information technology teams in the Carolinas are backing up critical data, giving employees the tools they need to work from home, and making emergency plans with vendors as they brace for Hurricane Florence.

Over the past week, Duke Energy Corp. has conducted “stress testing” on its outage and customer systems, mimicking a major weather event causing about 3.3 million outages, a spokesperson said Wednesday. The Charlotte, N.C.-based energy firm has halted other IT work until further notice to focus on maintaining tech platforms through the storm.

Health-insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is putting spare hardware in its data centers, and has stockpiled additional PCs in case more employees need to work at home, said Jim Song, the vice president of technology infrastructure. He is working with procurement teams to allow for expedited emergency purchases.

His team also is beefing up its virtual assets, acquiring temporary software licenses for employees who may need to work remotely for some time in the wake of the storm and cleanup. Mr. Song also has worked with many of its vendors to ensure Blue Cross and Blue Shield has immediate access to top-tier engineers in case of any issues.

“Depending on the situation, we have to be ready respond no matter what happens,” said Mr. Song, who was responsible for New York University Langone Medical Center’s IT infrastructure during 2012's Hurricane Sandy. “For that reason, we are all on high alert.”

Florence’s winds weakened Thursday, making it a Category 2 storm, but forecasters warned that a “catastrophic” threat remained. It is expected to dump as much as 40 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina and create a damaging surge in coastal waterways, the Journal reported. The hurricane’s outer reaches touched the coast of North Carolina on Thursday.

A combination of weather patterns and coastal geography is adding to the uncertainty about how the hurricane’s intensity might change once it arrives and where it will go inland, the Journal wrote.

The hurricane also could make companies vulnerable to cyberattacks as they move computers to fallback sites and switch on backup networking equipment, WSJ Pro Cybersecurity reported. Employees out of their usual work routines could be more susceptible to trickery.

Analytics company SAS has two on-site data centers in Cary, NC, and one in Charlotte for redundant services and disaster recovery. The data center operations team is on site 24/7 and is staying at a hotel close to its headquarters. The company also is filling generator fuel tanks and ensuring supplies are available to deal with water leaks, said Keith Collins, SAS executive vice president and CIO.

In recent days, SAS, the North Carolina Department of Information Technology and the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee, have been working to share Medicaid patient data through the states’ health information exchanges to help people affected by Florence. That would allow someone injured in a neighboring state, for example, to be treated by a doctor with full access to Medicaid patient data. The exchanges also serve as a backup to provider data, in case a doctor’s office is destroyed.

Communicating with employees and leadership remains crucial. Software firm Citrix Systems Inc. first alerted employees in the path of the storm via email Tuesday. The message contained options for remote work, links to update contact information in the company’s employee management system, links to the latest credible information on the storm, and internal resources to contact with any questions, said Stan Black, chief security and information officer. The company next will communicate with employees using SMS text messages or through a corporate application, he said.

During Tropical Storm Harvey, which slammed Texas with torrential rain and high wind last year, companies maintained around-the-clock oversight of information technology systems -- in some cases outfitting technology hubs with sleeping cots -- while shifting key business applications to the cloud and closely monitoring the status of the power grid and online providers.

For CIOs handling similar storms, it’s important not to overlook the little things, such as making sure to order extra PCs or figuring out how to manage printing during an emergency, Mr. Song said. They also should be prepared for events out of their control, such as major damage caused by a tree ripped out of the ground.

“You just don’t know what you don’t know.”

Jeff Stone contributed to this article.

Write to Steven Norton at [email protected]