Emerging Technology (Enhancing, Engaging, Connecting)
- By David W. Dodd
- October 1st, 2016
Hurricane Katrina. 9/11.
Pandemic influenza A (H1N1).
Superstorm Sandy. These events and
more have presented colleges and universities
with stark reminders of how incidents resulting
from terrorism, natural disasters, epidemics
and other vectors can impact and even preclude
the ability to continue normal operations. For
most schools, these operations include but are not limited to academic,
administrative and research programs. However, they also
include supporting the health and safety of our campus communities,
including students for whom we provide housing, food, heating
and air conditioning, security and other basic services.
Our institutions exist to educate students, and in turn it is
student enrollment that enables our institutions to remain viable
in many ways — including financially. The majority of institutions
depend on student tuition and fees for operating funding. As Hurricane
Katrina demonstrated, many institutions cease functioning
and cannot remain viable given even a relatively short disruption
of tuition generation. Most importantly (but only with the understanding
that personal injury or illness is avoided), the impact of
a substantially disrupted or cancelled academic term can prove
hugely problematic for students and their progress toward degrees.
Today, some institutions are incorporating the concept of
institutional resiliency into their strategic planning. According to
Merriam-Webster online, resilience is “an ability to recover from or
adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Within the context of this
discussion, institutional resiliency is the capacity of an institution
to remain fully operational through changing and deleterious conditions
by being agile and adaptable. This implies careful planning
concerning people, technology, procedures and other factors.
Unlike basic business continuity that traditionally incorporates
a number of assumptions concerning the continuation of operations
in a “normal” manner, institutional resiliency makes no such
assumptions and in fact assumes that fundamentally different approaches
may be required. For example, consider the impact of having
to abandon a campus entirely and what that would mean for an
institution. Most institutions do not plan for, nor would they be able
to, operate in a completely virtual manner if necessary. Classes could
not be held nor administrative activities conducted, as institutions
have experienced in previous incidents (such as Katrina).
Lessons From Personal Experience
In 2012, my own institution, Stevens Institute of Technology,
was one of those directly impacted by 1,000-mile-wide Superstorm
Sandy. I had arrived at Stevens only weeks earlier and
subsequently found we were ill equipped for such an incident.
The impact was sobering, but from that event we gained both
experience and resolve. We began planning. Our planning was
based on a fundamental goal: institutional resiliency that would
allow Stevens to continue operating and educating students with
the fewest possible dependencies, including our campus and its
Over the past four years Stevens has utilized a number of
strategies to achieve this goal. We have moved our web presence
and most of our mission-critical systems to the cloud. User
authentication to these systems has also been enabled via the
cloud. Even our scientific and engineering software has been
virtualized for access over the Internet through our own private
cloud. The myStevens intranet now provides authenticated access
to cloud-based file sharing and collaboration. To support the
ability to continue classes virtually, Stevens has deployed Canvas
for every course offered.
One of the most interesting parts of this story, ironically, ties
directly back to Superstorm Sandy. Following Sandy, researchers
in our Davidson Laboratory were asked to develop the capability
to forecast coastal flooding and storm surges related to severe
weather events. Stevens met this challenge and now provides
information to a range of public, private and governmental
agencies in order to support a variety of critical operations and
public safety. Today, Stevens has the Pharos high-performance
supercomputer housed in our new high-resiliency Data Center,
but in a rather stunning turnaround from the time of Sandy,
these capabilities were actually designed for and now provide
their most vital function during hurricanes.
Some institutions can survive if their operations cease and students
cannot complete their studies for one or more semesters due
to their large endowments; however, most do not even approach
that capability. And even if the institutions can survive financially,
institutions have a fundamental responsibility to students and
their academic programs — the reason they come to us.
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.
David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or email@example.com.