At the recent 2018 AACI-CRI Conference, research professionals discussed the challenges associated with developing a solid technology foundation, and how their infrastructure and processes are put to the test in the case of a disaster. Representatives from the Moffit Cancer Center and Hollings Cancer Center shared how their centers responded to recent natural disasters, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. These disasters, combined with increasing common cyber-attacks, provide a constant threat to research institutions and other healthcare organizations.
One key issue that came up during the session was the lack of research-specific processes for continuity (i.e. how to respond during a disaster) as well as disaster recovery (i.e. how to reconstitute your systems after a disaster). The needs of research institutions are unique and disruption to clinical, patient-centric systems and operational systems can be devastating. While no business continuity or disaster recovery plan is infallible, there are safeguards your institution can take to be prepared.
Create an All-Star Disaster Recovery Team
Creating a team comprised of leadership and technical resources and ensuring that everyone has a clearly-defined role in response to a disaster is vital to maintaining operations. From database administration to internal communications, your organization should have a plan to utilize all necessary resources in the event of a disaster.
Teams within research centers can be extremely specialized and representatives from each of these teams should have input into your plan to ensure that all needs are met across your institution. For example, your regulatory staff should provide input on how to best document FDA-regulated studies and communicate with regulatory authorities. Research staff should document a method to reach study participants in the event of a disaster and maintain study visits, if possible. Operational leadership should maintain partnerships with similar institutions to use as study site backups. These are just a few examples of ways that input from each team can greatly affect your level of preparedness. Your teams should think about what tasks they perform day in and day out, how those could be affected by a disaster and what backups can be put in place.
Put Your Team and Plan to the Test
Even a disaster recovery dream team and a comprehensive plan can falter without regular testing. A recent study found that fewer than half of healthcare organizations test their DR preparedness at least once per year. Frequently testing your plan not only allows you to identify potential weaknesses, but also ensures your disaster recovery processes have evolved with your organization over time. This evolution can involve compensating for the loss of technical expertise in certain areas, adapting to changes to HIPAA and other regulations or updating processes to reflect new technological advancements.
Utilize Your Enterprise Software Vendors
While disaster planning goes well beyond your enterprise software, these systems are often among the highest-priority items in your recovery processes. In some cases, your vendor can take on managing the infrastructure needed to host and support your system. A vendor-managed infrastructure creates safeguards in the event of a disaster and allows your staff to focus on other priorities, reducing the time to get your operations back to full speed.
For organizations using OnCore Enterprise Research System, Forte Managed Infrastructure provides geographically separate disaster recovery and business continuity processes that are regularly tested and monitored. We provide a secure environment and a team of experts ready to respond in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.