Getting Back to Business: Bank Adopts New Contingency Strategy

Less than one year ago, the predictions for catastrophe surrounding the Century Date Change had many organizations, including the Fed, preparing for the worst. But after the new millennium arrived with little consequence, some important questions remained: How well-prepared is the St. Louis Fed to maintain the services it provides to customers if a flood, earthquake or other disaster forces employees out of the downtown St. Louis office? Is the Bank's long-term plan for business resumption adequate given its broad range of products and services?

An Evolving Strategy

Contingency planning isn't new to the Fed—the strategy is simply evolving with changes in technology. At one time, most of the applications that supported Fed services resided on a mainframe. Today, many of these systems depend upon a more complex distributed computing infrastructure—a change that prompted senior management to reevaluate what it would take to get back in business if a disaster strikes.

Assistant Vice President Martin Coleman headed up a task force that was charged with reviewing and updating the Bank's comprehensive business resumption strategy. Coleman and his staff surveyed each division to determine how a disaster at the St. Louis office would affect the Bank's business areas and how soon particular functions would have to be restored. Consultants from IBM helped analyze what type of computer support would be needed.

In their survey responses, Bank management continued to emphasize the importance of sustaining services to depository institutions, providing financial reports to the Board of Governors and maintaining public trust. This information helped the business resumption team prioritize recovery objectives and estimate technology needs. Several business areas—including Cash and Check Operations, Treasury, Tax and Loan (TT&L), and Statistics—were designated "Priority One," meaning that those functions must be recovered within a matter of hours. The computer systems that are vital to these areas—such as FedLine, EDITH, and TIP and PATAX—would also have to be up and running quickly.

Switching to Plan B

The Bank's recovery strategy outlines plans for both local and regional disasters. If conditions force the evacuation of the downtown St. Louis office, critical functions will relocate to a newly constructed business resumption center in Overland, Mo., just outside the St. Louis city limits. The center is located adjacent to the Bank's existing off-site facility, which already houses its print shop and mailroom.

Inside, a large main room is designed to accommodate up to 300 employees and the equipment necessary to perform their functions, including a computer and a telephone for each. Several smaller rooms will serve as conference rooms or offices for the Bank's senior management. And behind the scenes, contingency servers and a back-up telephone system support operations.

If a disaster causes major damage throughout the St. Louis region and the Overland site is unusable, the recovery strategy changes. Critical recovery employees will temporarily relocate to a business resumption facility located at the Little Rock Branch. This two-part plan will enable the Bank to respond appropriately to the particular disaster.

What It Means for Customers

According to Coleman, "We certainly hope that we never have a real need to use these recovery services. But if a disaster strikes and the plan is executed properly, financial institutions will notice few changes in the services they receive from the St. Louis Fed. Our goal is to make the stay at the business resumption center as short as possible and return to normal operations."

If you have questions about the Bank's business resumption plans, contact Martin Coleman at (314) 444-8539.

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