Katrina whipped Louisiana court into shape for Gustav

Gustav had nowhere near the effect on the Louisiana Supreme Court of Katrina

Gustav had nowhere near the effect on the Louisiana Supreme Court that Katrina did three years ago — in fact, the network never went down.

The courts' main datacentre, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, remained up and running and connected to the MPLS WAN, says Peter Haas, pictured, the director of technology for the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

Gustav did drive court workers from the city, but running on generator power, the network itself remained up and running throughout the storm, Haas says.

He says the state's chief justice accessed servers in New Orleans throughout the storm to reach files needed to write and issue emergency orders waiving enforcement of certain state laws, such as the right to be arraigned within 72 hours of arrest. The primary public court website and intranet servers remained up and running throughout.

Haas knows this because he has been monitoring the network from his home in nearby Slidell, Louisiana, just north of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. He has a generator at his house and a Verizon wireless card in his laptop, which also has extended-life batteries — all preparedness lessons he learned during Katrina.

During that storm three years ago, there was no disaster recovery site and Haas had to don a flak jacket and get a police escort to rescue servers from the courthouse so he could install them in a court building in Baton Rouge.

This time, with the backup generator kicking in when Gustav knocked out power to the court building, all the primary servers were running, but he shifted the communications servers over to the recovery datacentre in northern Louisiana, Haas says.

His worry was that Verizon, the court WAN provider, might restrict bandwidth in its own network, and he wanted less traffic going in and out of New Orleans, so he switched on the BlackBerry, email and web servers at the disaster-recovery location.

After Katrina, Haas gave Verizon close scrutiny because he wanted to feel confidant that its network was prepared to handle a similar disaster. He says he reviewed Verizon's own disaster-recovery plan before signing it up to provide the court MPLS network.

"If a key piece of the puzzle doesn't fit, we're screwed," he says.

There were a few minor items the disaster plan overlooked, he says. For example, the plan called for extended-life batteries for everyone's laptops but not for their cell phones.

And the backup generator was attached to the backup air-conditioning unit for the datacentre, but not hooked up to the primary unit. While the backup was being switched on, the datacentre temperatures got a little high, making it necessary to shut down non-essential machines.

"There were little things," Haas says. "Not show-stoppers."

In addition having the backup datacentre ready to switch on, Haas also made provisions to rebuild key servers should both the primary and backups be lost. Each of the court's eight IT staffers carried 8GB flash drives that contained network diagrams, device configurations and vendor contact information so the network could be rebuilt from scratch if necessary. Even the clerk of courts, who rode out the storm in Florida, had one of the flash drives just in case something happened to the IT staff, Haas says.

Practice drills have become part of the routine at the courts since Katrina, and an emergency drill was carried out two weeks before Gustav hit to test recovery preparedness.

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Tags Special IDhurricanesgustavkatrinalouisiana supreme court

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