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Houston ISD Shares Lessons Learned From Harvey

IT administrators from Houston ISD are sharing what they learned from Harvey with schools around the country.


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Record levels of rain and a massive amount of flooding led Houston ISD into a situation that tested the limits of their disaster preparedness plans, administrators say. The storm delayed start times for schools by weeks.

Now that Houston’s schools are back in session, technology administrators are sharing what they learned from the storm. Just before Hurricane Irma hit Miami, HISD gave administrators there some advice, and the district is now working with schools across the country.

Their plan starts with a simple step. Before Harvey hit, HISD sent out an email to staff asking them to unplug their computers and move them off the ground. Lenny Schad is HISD’s chief technology officer. He says that email was a part of plan that got their network back up within days after the storm.

"Luckily from a technology perspective, we fared the storm very well," Schad said.

Getting the district ready again meant getting the school's network back up — a task that took a few hundred volunteers from the Houston IT community.

"When you unplug a facility you're bringing down all the connections," said Umesh Verma of Houston-based cyber-security firm Blue Lance. In a network like HISD’s where some of the hardware is aging, bringing the network online again is not a simple task.

Verma helped organize the volunteer effort. He says many Houston-area technology companies jumped on the opportunity to help. “We got the kids back in school. That was the most important thing we could have done as a community."

While volunteers began the IT end of the recovery effort, the district got some tips from FEMA — little things they didn't think of, like having rubber boots on hand or taking pictures with time-stamps. "We were kind of learning it as we were going, and through conversations with them," Schad said, referring to FEMA.

Schad says the district’s experience during Harvey has left them better prepared for future events.