Wednesday AM May 30th, 2007

More Houston companies prepared for disaster as hurricane season approaches...New biodiesel plant opens in Galveston...Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey shows increased activity...

More Houston companies are mindful of disaster preparedness as the hurricane season approaches. AT&T's 2007 Business Continuity Survey of local information technology executives finds Houston ranks second—behind New York City--on having and testing a business continuity plan. AT&T's Rick Duran says businesses re-evaluated their business continuity plans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, although companies have been exporting data to other cities overnight as a way of backing up sensitive information.

"Sending the material off is key, and when we're talking about material, we're basically talking about the data—data warehousing, the data inventory, information with suppliers and distributors. Sending it off is a critical step, but you also have to test your plan on a regular basis to make sure that even though you feel like, a business feels like they have taken all the steps necessary to recover from a disaster, it's critical to test. In addition to that, not only are you moving data off-site, but the human asset or employee asset is key. We learned in the situation with Hurricane Rita in the mass evacuation out of the Houston metropolitan area that having an employee go from Houston to Dallas in a normal day is not a big situation given the flight schedules and I-45, but in the event of a mass evacuation we saw upwards of 20 hours just to get, you know, from Houston to Dallas, and that is critical that companies take that into account, as well."

One lesson learned after Katrina and Rita was the importance of redundant ways to get in touch with employees.

"What we recommend in today's environment is to go ahead and establish a hotline for employees to call into, in the event of a disaster. In dealing with companies, they had no clue where their employees where--were they safe, were they still in harm's way? And it's very difficult for those employees to call back into the corporate office, given the infrastructure and the catastrophe that took place. So it's key to go ahead and establish a hotline in advance and make sure that all employees are aware of the hotline, as well as on the flip side, it's important for the human resources department to have an update contact list of employees, as well, whether that'd be home numbers or cell phones, or in the case of, you know, a true disaster, back-up relatives where the employees could end up at in the event of a disaster. As I mentioned earlier, it's critical that you actually test the plan, because the key to business continuity and disaster recovery is to continue to refine it. There is never an end state to where a company is fully able to recover from a disaster. It's basically a continuum that companies look at and continue to invest upon, and it's critical to do the testing to ensure success in the event of a true disaster."

The last time AT&T conducted a survey of Houston area IT officers was in 2005, before that year's devastating hurricane season that included Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

A new biodiesel plant has opened in Galveston—one of the first large-scale biodiesel production facilities in North America. BioSelect Fuels is a division of Standard Renewable Energy and Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA. The facility will initially produce 20 million gallons of biodiesel a year, with the capability of expansion to produce 110 million gallons a year. Biodiesel Galveston will produce biodiesel from soybeans and other renewable feedstocks.

Manufacturing activity continues increasing, according to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. But overall activity appears to have leveled off in the first two months of the second quarter. Indexes for production, factory activity, volume of new orders, volume of shipments and company outlook in May were similar to April figures. But the index for general business activity improved for the second consecutive month in May, with index values higher for growth rate of orders, unfilled orders and number of employees.

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of employers, by limiting workers' ability to sue employers for pay discrimination that results from decisions made years earlier. The five-to-four ruling says employers would otherwise find it difficult to defend against claims "arising from employment decisions that are long past.'' The case concerned how to apply a 180-day deadline for complaining about discriminatory pay decisions under Title 7 of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. A woman had sued Goodyear, claiming that after 19 years at the company's plant in Gasden, Alabama, she was making $6,000 less a year than the lowest-paid man doing the same work. The company argued--and the majority agreed--that the woman had waited too long to begin her lawsuit.

Despite objections from environmentalists, a company plans to burn toxic waste from a 1984 industrial disaster in India that killed at least 10,000 people. The gas leak from a pesticide plant in Bhopal was the world's worst industrial disaster. In addition to the 10,000 killed, more than 550,000 others were affected in some way. The company that plans to burn toxic waste from Bhopal says the waste poses no threat. But environmentalists say the company is not up to the task. Survivors have been fighting since the disaster to get the site cleaned up. The plant was run by a subsidiary of the U.S. chemical company Union Carbide at the time of the accident, but Union Carbide later sold its interest in the Bhopal plant. Union Carbide was later taken over by Dow Chemical, which says it is not responsible for cleaning up the site.

American Commercial Barge Line is separating its liquid cargo segment from its dry cargo division and setting up a liquid cargo headquarters in Houston, according to the Houston Business Journal. Most of the firm's liquid cargo customers are large chemical companies based in Texas and the Gulf region. American Commercial Barge Line plans to add 30 liquid tank barges during 2008. It currently has some 400 liquid cargo barges and about 2,700 dry cargo barges.

Officials say the El Paso campus of the Texas Tech University Medical School will expand into a complete four-year medical school by 2009 now that Texas lawmakers have approved start-up funding. The state budget approved this week by the Texas legislature includes $48 million for the El Paso branch of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. The budget is now in the hands of Governor Rick Perry, who has supported expansion of the campus. Dr. Robert Suskind, the school's founding dean, says Texas Tech plans to hire 20 faculty members this summer and will add 80 doctors to the campus staff in the next two years. Supporters of the medical school have argued that El Paso and the border region suffer from a lack of doctors. They also say a medical school will help focus treatment on diseases affecting the area, such as diabetes, obesity and depression.

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