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The weeks following hurricane Katrina and the way Johnson's team was able to respond to the evolving disaster is a testament to the importance of disaster recovery planning

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The weeks following hurricane Katrina and the way Johnson's team was able to respond to the evolving disaster is a testament to the importance of disaster recovery planning. But what's most remarkable is not how well a frequently-practised and well-executed plan worked, but what the people executing that plan had to endure as they carried it out.

Johnson is the first to tell you he's one of the lucky ones - the damage to his house on the west bank of Lake Ponchatrain in Jefferson Parish can be fixed. Not everyone was so fortunate. The first few days after Katrina, Entergy was also focused on locating its 14,000 employees, including the 700 men and women working in IT. They were scattered to the four winds. "One of the first things we did was to try to contact everyone using our network of supervisors beginning on Tuesday to find out such things as: Are you OK? Do you know the status of your home? Do you have any urgent needs that aren't being met?," says Johnson. "There were quite a few people we couldn't find at first." Ultimately everyone was located and there were no fatalities.

Nonetheless tragedy permeated the staff. "What's unique about this story is the fact that so many people involved in the core restoration that relocated here to Jackson were on the job working hard even though they knew they had no home to return to," Johnson says, including a senior member of the business continuity team. "People up to the senior management level couldn't get in touch with family members. And these people were working with us twenty hours a day. It was a testament to their dedication."

Beyond disaster recovery, some Entergy employees faced with dealing with their own personal losses had to work on the business continuity plan as well. That commenced the Sunday following the storm. Entergy headquarters located in the heart of the central business district a stone's throw from the Superdome, high and dry just after Katrina blew through was now surrounded by six feet of water. The building where 70 percent of Entergy's employees reported to work every day was unreachable. "We had to make the assumption that because of the substantial damage downtown, we would not be returning to normal operations there in a week or two," says Johnson. He and other senior executives began to look for a temporary home for the company and a solution was found in the former Worldcom headquarters in Clinton, Mississippi, just outside Jackson.

The IT team was charged with getting the telecom and IT infrastructure in place at interim headquarters, located in a larger office complex. The enterprise business continuity team, having located all employees either by phone or Internet, began to assist those who could return to work in finding temporary housing in the area.

Unlike some other disasters Entergy has weathered, this one had a huge business continuity element to it - and not just in terms of the physical headquarters. "The business continuity plan was a major part of our restoration. As we located people we were able to immediately start looking at how we could best mobilize our employees," Johnson says. "We knew who was where so we could start to look at adding equipment and computers in new locations where necessary and mapping our needs to the resources we had."

On September 9, Entergy deployed an electronic survey on its intranet, asking all employees to sign in and provide updated information on their location and personal situation.

Obviously, not everyone originally working at Entergy headquarters could relocate to the Jackson area. "That gave us a pretty good handle of where everyone is, what their family situation is, and whether they are available to be redeployed," Johnson says. Armed with a spreadsheet of that data, Entergy's business continuity team began to build ad hoc teams based on geography and skills, not job title. "Almost no one is doing the job they had before," Johnson says. "Everyone's job is different." In some cases, employees are beginning to report to Entergy locations in Houston and Little Rock, for example. In other cases, workers are telecommuting.

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