Web Emergency Plan

Prepared by Sarah Horton, Rick Adams, Martin Grant, and Brian Hughes, in consultation with the Emergency Planning Group and Technical Services

Published July 6, 2009 — subject to change

Background

In the event of an emergency, Dartmouth must respond by notifying the Dartmouth community of the emergency and providing instructions on how to respond. Dartmouth must also communicate to the community and the world at large about the emergency. The Dartmouth website is the primary communications vehicle for emergency response.

The Web Emergency Plan describes both how we intend to keep the Dartmouth website online during an emergency, and how we intend to use the site for emergency notification, instruction, and communication.

Components

The following section details the components that will be used in using the web as part of emergency response.

Web Sites

Our emergency communication plan includes the three components: an Emergency Preparedness website, modifications to the Dartmouth home page and pages on other Dartmouth websites, and an Emergency Communications website.

Emergency Preparedness website

The Emergency Preparedness site supports the work of the Emergency Planning, Management, and Policy Groups. The site contains updates about potential emergencies, and informational materials about how to respond to different types of emergencies. The site also provides resources for emergency planning, such as templates for departmental emergency plans. The emergency notification system, DartAlert, is also managed through this website.

www.dartmouth.edu/~prepare

Dartmouth home page

The Dartmouth home page, Dartmouth’s online front door and the online “home” for many in the Dartmouth community, is a key component in emergency communications. In the case of an emergency, Dartmouth home and the Emergency site in tandem will serve as the locus for notification, instruction, and communication.

The primary purpose of the home page during an emergency is for external communications. The home page adapts in design and content in response to the situation, and points to further information on the Emergency Information site.

Alert banner

The alert banner sits atop of the current home page design and displays an important notification, with a link to the Emergency site when appropriate. The banner is propagated throughout the Dartmouth home site, and throughout all Dartmouth sites that use the Web Services template. When DartAlert is utilized, the banner text would be the same as the text used for the DartAlert notification.

Alert module

The alert module appears in the Up Front area of the home page. The module has descriptive text and links to the Emergency site when appropriate. The purpose of the module is to communicate information that is important, but not life threatening, such as a closing due to inclement weather. The module may also be used as an intermediate measure while preparing to switch to the emergency layout.

Emergency layout

The emergency layout is a stripped down, bare bones version of the Dartmouth home page. The emergency layout takes the place of the current home page when Dartmouth is engaged in a significant emergency that effectively puts a halt on other College communications. The content of the emergency layout is brief notifications and announcements, with pointers to more extended information on the Emergency Information website.

Emergency Information website

The Emergency Information website is the primary internal communications vehicle that the College would use during an emergency. The site contains alert status notifications, instructions, phone numbers, and other communications depending on the nature of the emergency. This site is flexible and able to adapt to the communication needs that arise from the emergency.

When the College is in the midst of managing a significant emergency (a DartAlert-level emergency), all traffic to the Dartmouth homepage will redirect to the Emergency website. We can also redirect all traffic to www.dartmouth.edu (not just home page traffic) to the Emergency website.

When the College is not managing an emergency, the site displays an “all is well” status notification and phone numbers and links to the Emergency Preparedness and Safely and Security.

emergency.dartmouth.edu or www.dartmouth.edu/emergency

Redundancy

The Emergency website is stored on the web server rather than on the SAN. It is mirrored across Webster-1, Webster-2, Webster-3, and Westworld. The web site data is identical across these different servers, and the access and editing also carries through so that the process of updating the site is standard regardless of whether the site is hosting locally or off-site.

Simple, low-cost design

The site design is simple and lightweight, placing minimal demands on the user, the server, and the network. The visual design of the Emergency website is significantly different from other Dartmouth sites in order to reinforce the unique nature of the site. The site works well when accessed by cell phones.

Adaptable design

There are two flavors of the emergency website. The Emergency Plus version provides access to other web pages on the web server. Emergency Only provides access to only pages on the Emergency site.

Emergency Plus will be used when local web server and data access is available—when the campus is in a state of emergency but local web hosting is still functioning. Emergency Only will be used when local web hosting is compromised as the result of an outage that affects the SAN, server, or Internet. Emergency Only may be activated when local web hosting is available but degraded by a significant increase in web traffic due to many requests for pages, which is likely to happen during an emergency. Emergency Only will also be used when the severity of the situation is such that informing the community of the emergency situation takes precedence over conducting the business of the College.

Switching to the Emergency Only version when local web hosting is available means that people will no longer have access to the full Dartmouth website. We need to provide a means to provide full access to the web server for those who need it in order to manage the emergency.

Web Hosting

Web emergency communications relies on web hosting infrastructure. The following section describes Dartmouth’s systems and processes to support web emergency communications both when Dartmouth is online and when Dartmouth is offline due to a major outage.

Local Web Hosting

When Dartmouth is online and has an Internet connection, we have local redundant servers and storage options to support emergency communications.

Berry Machine Room

Dartmouth’s main web service, www.dartmouth.edu, exists on a web server called Webster-1. Webster-1 primarily responds to requests for pages, the data for which exists on another machine, called a Storage Area Network, or SAN. Webster-1 is in the Berry machine room.

Another web server, Webster-2, is also in the Berry machine room. Webster-2 is connected to the same SAN as Webster-1. If Webster-1 is unable to provide web service, Webster-2 takes over the www.dartmouth.edu web service. The switch from Webster-1 to Webster-2 will soon be an automated process.

Etna Data Center

The Etna Data Center, or EDC, has a third web server dedicated to providing the www.dartmouth.edu web service—Webster-3. If the Berry machine room is unavailable, Webster-3 will take over the www.dartmouth.edu service. The switch to Webster-3 will soon be an automated process.

EDC also has a SAN whose purpose is to fill in for the Berry SAN as necessary. The data on the Berry SAN is replicated on the EDC SAN. If the Berry SAN goes down and the EDC SAN takes over, the data on the EDC SAN is replicated back to the Berry SAN once it resumes service. The SAN will soon be an automated process.

Additionally, if both the Berry and EDC SANs are offline, the web servers are able to host pages.

EDC will provide www.dartmouth.edu service if:

  • The Berry SAN is unavailable
  • The Berry web servers (Webster-1 and Webster-2) are unavailable
  • Internet access to Berry is unavailable
  • Power to Berry is unavailable

Off-Site Web Hosting

If the Berry machine room and the EDC are both offline, a fourth web server, located in Seattle, WA, will provide www.dartmouth.edu service. Peer 1 Networks provides server rack space, power, and networking, and Dartmouth has installed and configured a web server, known internally as Westworld, to provide basic web hosting. The primary purpose of this off-site server is to fill in as the www.dartmouth.edu front door during an emergency. Additionally, staff at Peer 1 will update the web site content via telephone if we are unable to update the site ourselves.

DNS Service

The Domain Name Service, or DNS, is the service that maps domain names to specific Internet addresses. Dartmouth maintains primary and secondary DNS servers. These servers map domain names to machine IP addresses. In the case of www.dartmouth.edu, the domain name is mapped to 129.170.20.25, the IP address of Webster-1. All three instances of Webster—Webster-1, Webster-2, and Webster-3—share the same subnet (129.170.20), making it easy to switch the mapping from machine to machine as needed. In the event that Webster-1 goes offline, the DNS entry for www.dartmouth.edu on Dartmouth’s DNS servers can be readily remapped to Webster-2; likewise for remapping Webster-3. The effect of this remapping is likely to not be noticed, but if it were it would be experienced as a short outage from the web user perspective.

If both of Dartmouth’s DNS servers are unavailable—the result of an outage at both Berry and EDC—Dartmouth has a reciprocal agreement with Augsberg College in Minneapolis, MN. Augsberg has a modified version of our domain mapping file. The file is modified to map www.dartmouth.edu to Westworld, the server in Seattle, WA. This remapping is a manual process that involves contacting Augsberg to initiate the change. Once the local servers are back online, we would need to contact Augsberg again to have the IP address switched back to the local address.

DNS information is propagated from DNS server to DNS server around the world. Since this remapping of host name to IP address represents a change, there will be a delay in response. It may be hours before all DNS servers register the change. Whenever we make changes to the domain mapping file, certain locations may experience a “host not found” error for a time when attempting to contact Dartmouth.

Emergency Protocol

The following section lists the aspects and the individuals responsible for the various aspects of web emergency communications, and the protocol for making contact and providing service during an emergency situation.

Decisions and content

As members of Dartmouth’s Emergency Management Group, the following individuals determine when to use the Emergency website and when and how to adapt the Dartmouth homepage:

  • Steve Kadish
  • Harry Kinne
  • Michael Blayney
  • Latarsha Gatlin

This group is also responsible for providing content for the various web components. Notification text should be the same as that provided via DartAlert, while instructions and communications are created on the fly as required by the nature of the emergency.

To contact the content group for emergencies that require only an alert banner or alert module, work sequentially through the list until contact is made. For DartAlert-level emergencies, all members of the content group will be notified via the system.

Web pages

The following individuals have access to and responsibility for the Emergency website, the Dartmouth homepage, and the alert banner:

  • Martin Grant
  • Alan German
  • Brian Hughes
  • Susan Lee

To contact the web group for emergencies that require only an alert banner or alert module, work sequentially through the list until contact is made. For DartAlert-level emergencies, all members of the web group will be notified via the system.

Web hosting

The following individuals have access to and are responsible for maintaining web hosting during an emergency, and for making modifications to the hosting infrastructure as needed to support emergency communications:

  • Brian Hughes
  • David Steiner
  • Joe Hill
  • Mike Pettinicchio

The web hosting group is not likely to be impacted by the activation of the alert banner or alert module, but should be notified for all other levels of emergency. For DartAlert-level emergencies, all members of the web hosting group will be notified via the system.

Ongoing Maintenance

Emergency Preparedness website

The Emergency Preparedness website is a standard website maintained by Web Services. They are responsible for supporting and maintaining the website code, framework, and content management tool.

The following individuals are responsible to maintaining the content on the Emergency Preparedness website:

  • Latarsha Gatlin
  • Martin Grant
  • Nancy Fontaine

This group will review the site on a regular basis for currency and accuracy, in consultation with the Emergency Management Group.

Emergency website

The web group is responsible for reviewing update protocols and processes with the Emergency Management Group twice a year.

Web hosting

The web hosting group is responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the emergency web hosting infrastructure, including the multiple servers, the switchovers, and the DNS service. Additionally, the web hosting group is responsible for managing the mirroring of the various website components across the servers and SANs. The web hosting group will review protocols and processes twice a year.