University of Wisconsin–Madison
Map of coronavirus outbreak as of Jan 28 2020

DoIT proactively plans for potential remote working scenarios

As coronavirus continues to make national headlines, proactive preparation is underway within the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) to ensure we’re ready to serve UW–Madison’s technology needs in any potential emerging scenarios outside of standard operating practices.

“This is a good opportunity for all UW units to review their emergency preparedness and contingency planning procedures so they can act quickly and effectively, if necessary,” said UW–Madison Deputy Chief Information Officer David Pagenkopf.

Local and state public health officials, along with the Centers for Disease Control, UW Health, and University Health Services continue to characterize the immediate health risk locally from the coronavirus as low. However, if that scenario changes, university IT services need to be prepared to:

  1. Support continued teaching and learning through alternate (remote) methods for an extended period
  2. Provide this continued support with potentially reduced levels of staffing

DoIT is actively engaged in planning exercises and action items tied to these key themes, including holding practice virtual meetings to test how our remote collaboration tools would perform with large numbers of people working and participating remotely.

“You always learn things when you actually practice something like this,” said Chief Technology Officer Todd Shechter. “And we’re fixing things we identified so they will work better in the event that we have to have a large remote workforce.”

Pagenkopf and Shechter note that any emergency presents unexpected challenges, but advance planning and preparation will better position DoIT and the university to deal with any scenario—whether it’s a coronavirus outbreak or another “polar vortex” type of weather phenomenon.

“We have a playbook for responding to emergencies, we’ve practiced our playbook, and we’re practicing what it means to have a sizable remote workforce if there’s a need for the isolation of individuals,” Shechter said. “We encourage other distributed IT partner units to also use this as an opportunity to plan how your own organizations might adapt.”

Among other contingency planning action items, DoIT is also preparing by:

  • Running a “health check” of our network and virtual private network (VPN) load, as well as key systems that would need to function optimally in a mass remote work scenario
  • Sharing tips with faculty, staff and students about best practices for securing your computer and working remotely
  • Encouraging DoIT employees and university colleagues to think about personal and family readiness by reviewing the tips and information available at www.ready.gov/pandemic

The university regularly engages in tabletop exercises and drills to plan for emergency scenarios, and Pagenkopf notes that this continuous preparation and planning helps DoIT to “deal with whatever comes our way in a timely manner.”

“The result that we all hope for is that coronavirus will not affect any of UW’s students, faculty, staff or operations,” Pagenkopf said. “But if this is the case, our advance preparation and planning will not have gone to waste. We will all be better prepared for the next potential challenge.”

For more information about coronavirus—including tips to help prevent the spread of viral infection and frequently asked questions—please visit the University Health Services website.