When a Crisis Hits, Social Networking Partnership May Keep Web Working

A major social networking company has agreed to mirror UCLA’s Web site during emergencies. If all goes according to plan, this pilot program will prevent the university’s site from crashing due to an overload of traffic that often occurs when disasters strikes.

Because most emergency alert messages are succinct and convey only minimal information, many campuses have trained those in their communities — after they receive the initial emergency alert — to immediately go to the campus’ Web site for additional instructions. That process may be all well and good during a small incident. However, when a major disaster occurs and the world is focusing on your campus and visiting your Web site, your site could become overloaded and crash.

“We can take 500,000 to 1 million hits per minute,” says David Burns, UCLA’s emergency manager. “Still, we know it’s likely we’re going to experience significant stress worldwide. Everyone is going to go to the UCLA.edu page.”

In light of this challenge, UCLA has embarked on a pilot project with a major social networking company that will allow UCLA’s Web site to be mirrored on their site during a crisis. “Anyone who has signed up to a new page called UCLA911 as a friend will be able to see our emergency message,” he adds.

Burns says, “During Virginia Tech and Katrina, people were using social networking sites to exchange information live — millions simultaneously.” The concern Burns and others had with this was that those individuals, who might have very good intentions, could inadvertently disseminate misinformation.

According to Burns, Sara Cohen, who is a Katrina survivor and a UCLA graduate student, came up with the idea of partnering with a social networking Web site. The site’s extensive amount of bandwidth would practically guarantee UCLA’s Web site would remain operational during a disaster. Additionally, UCLA could control the message and provide accurate, credible information. And the best part of it all? The solution is free.

How this project eventually works out remains to be seen. Burns hopes that UCLA’s experience will be a template other campuses can eventually follow.

In the meantime, another way to prevent your campus’ site from crashing during a disaster is to temporarily water it down so it has very little graphics and script (during the incident). Doing this means more people can visit the site without stressing the network.

Also, Web sites should be redundant, being hosted (as back-up) in an off-site location where there are fewer hazards.

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Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety. She can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

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About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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