Profiles
July 17, 2012

Jennifer Ellis: Ontario’s disaster recovery leader

Emergencies happen. In many cases, natural disasters and pandemics are unavoidable. Our preparedness, however, is not always as consistent as the occurrence of these unfortunate events.  

Fortunately, in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), Emergency Management (EM) and Business Continuity (BC) models are being set.

Jennifer Ellis, business continuity manager in the Children, Youth and Social Services I&IT Cluster (CYSSC), has developed one such award winning model, which is of paramount importance considering the services the cluster is responsible for delivering.

CYSSC provides mission critical system support to Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS). The cluster enables these ministries to support vulnerable citizens who rely on their services and programs; it is imperative that a crisis not interrupt delivery.

When Ellis came to CYSSC in 2007, there was no established BC plan. “There has always been business recovery in a sense,” she said, “but BC became a focus after 9/11. Since then, governments and their ministries have been addressing the need for detailed BC programs.”

Fast forward to today, where the established CYSSC BC program and the BC Management Working Group, which Ellis leads, has a credential list that consists of multiple nominations and both the 2010 and 2011 Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI) Canada Award of Excellence. In addition, she received a personal crowning achievement on May 22 in New Orleans, where she was the recipient of the 2012 DRI International Award for Program Leader of the Year (Public Sector).

“This time I was individually nominated by colleagues as a leader of the program, which is a great honour to me,” Ellis said.

Candice Wright, disaster recovery and business continuity coordinator in the Working Group, says that, “as a leader … Jennifer has created an environment of collaboration and partnership and has been a champion of continuity and preparedness in our cluster. Her exceptional leadership skills and knowledge of BC processes have propelled our continuity program to a higher level of resilience.”

Ellis brought with her nearly 20 years of BC and EM experience to CYSSC. In previous roles, outside of the OPS, she implemented continuity plans during Y2K and the disaster recovery of systems during 9/11.  

At a high level, the establishment of the BC program at CYSSC was developed through three essential phases. One of the first pieces Ellis tackled was to create a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), a document that identifies how to respond to disasters and continue with business operations. “The simplest way to put it,” she explained, “is that the COOP is an 1,800-page document that tells the cluster what to do no matter what happens.”

And indeed, the cluster’s COOP has been successfully activated for crisis situations: a propane explosion threatened the cluster’s main data center in Toronto in 2008; a major flood occurred during 2009 in a North Toronto office where over 200 cluster staff were located; and data equipment failures in 2011 have all been dealt with efficiently with the support of the COOP.  

The second phase required the development of EM plans, or, as Ellis puts it, “the physical side of BC planning.” This involved the development of crises responses, such as evacuation procedures and pandemic planning. These response procedures supported the Working Group in successfully managing the H1N1 pandemic in the fall of 2009 and early 2010 by providing staff with hygiene best practices and the training and awareness required to minimize the pandemic’s impact.

Disaster Recovery (DR) planning has been the third essential piece for the Working Group. Although DR procedures are already well developed in the BC program, Ellis points to a need for modernizing them within the context of new IT platforms.
   
Such practices have contributed to the resiliency of this group. “When it comes to BC,” says Corbin Kerr, chief information officer of the CYSSC, “Jennifer Ellis is the go-to person for many people in MCSS and MCYS and is influential with her peers across the Ontario government. She knows the importance of being prepared and embodies the principals of BC and EM, championing the cause in everything she does in the OPS.”

Correspondingly, Ellis knows her success has not come alone. “The Working Group is a wonderful group of dedicated people,” she said. “When they or I come up with great ideas, they make it happen.”  

Adam Valente is communications coordinator for the Children, Youth and Social Services I&IT Cluster with Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services (Adam.Valente@ontario).

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