When investigating disaster recovery (DR) for educational institutions,
keep in mind that K-12 schools
often have many different needs than their higher education counterparts. Budgets
are generally much tighter, though not always—some colleges are still on
shoe-string budgets—and campuses tend to be smaller. DR for these organizations
is nearly always a balancing act between perception, politics, and regulations,
and a very tricky balance at that.

Most K-12 schools have the luxury (in the DR business) of
being entirely bound to a single set of physical buildings, often one single
building. Without the ability to hold classes at this location, you cannot
offer your services to your end users. This allows you a great deal more
latitude in what types of DR solutions you need to put in place. Unlike
corporations and other types of businesses that require immediate recovery
because the business fails over to another location, K-12 schools will need to
find alternate locations to send students, procure portable facilities, and
take many other steps before the data in question has anyone to access it at

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The recovery
of the New Orleans’ public school system after Hurricane Katrina
is perhaps
the worst-case scenario for disaster planning. In order to place students
temporarily and keep track of a widely dispersed student population, data from
schools had to be recovered as soon as possible to aid in the overwhelming task
of reopening schools, or moving students to new facilities.

State and federal regulations in the United States nearly
always require that schools report on student populations and educational
progress on a regular basis. While you’ll probably be able to get an extension
on time to file your reports in the event of a disaster, you will definitely
have to recover your data in order to file reports by the mandated deadlines. Also
keep in mind that the temporary foster schools, temporary staff, and interim
locations will need the students’ records within a short period of time. So,
while instant failover is often not required, data protection and restoration
absolutely are.

Most municipal schools have the ability to share other
municipal resources to aid in DR planning. Perhaps other state or local
agencies can host servers that you can replicate your data to, allowing the
data to be ready for access as soon as you’re once again able to use it. Large
government buildings can be used to house off-site tape copies of data for
eventual restoration, and municipal networks can offer bandwidth to accomplish
your DR goals. In many cases, groups of county schools can band together to
combine resources and protect each other.

Private schools may not be so lucky. Though you might be able
to leverage state and local agencies to provide resources, more than likely you
aren’t going to be able to take advantage of these public resources. You still
need to meet your goals, but there are other options. You can contract with the
same types of companies that businesses use to store off-site tape copies, and
if you’re part of a larger network (such as religious or social organizations),
you can often work in conjunction with other schools and organizations that
belong to the same groups.

K-12 DR offers its own unique set of challenges to IT staff. You
must be familiar with the laws that govern data protection and accessibility,
such as the Family
Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
. This TechRepublic download, “10 things you
should know about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)”

will help you get started.