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State Tax Commission sets example with disaster recovery plan

CLINTON — When the State Tax Commission offices on Springridge Road suffered fire damage on May 24, the results could have been devastating. But thanks to foresight and quick action by administrative leaders, State Tax Commission employees didn’t miss a beat.

“We had a disaster recovery plan in place and I’m telling you that has saved our life,” said Lois Senger, deputy director of the office of administrative services for the State Tax Commission. “Our computer systems recovery plan kicked in immediately. The plan was a godsend to us.”

The fire, which was caused by a battery backup for a computer, was confined to a small area, with water damage affecting a larger area, but soot from fire residue presented a problem throughout most of the building.

“We kept money going into the bank because the state depends on us,” said Senger. “People pulled together and worked together so well. We worked 24 hours a day in shifts. I’ve been very proud of our organization and its leadership. We are, after all, CPAs and I think everyone should be commended for what we accomplished.”

Cindy Moses, director of the office of administrative services for the State Tax Commission, said that senior staff members designed a disaster recovery plan years ago.

“We first decided what was the top priority of our business: putting money in the bank,” she said. “The next priority was to have the technical staff to support the programs to do that. The Alcohol Beverage Control is a part of the State Tax Commission and part of our contingency plan was to be able to move computers and people and tax returns and checks out there to do our work. That’s what we did over the Memorial Day weekend.”

By Tuesday morning, the State Tax Commission set up a network in a side office not damaged by fire at the building to collect taxes, said Moses.

“The networking servers and some of the database servers were actually located on Springridge but the large taxpayer database servers are located downtown at the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services,” said Moses. “The computer room at the Springridge location is isolated and temperature controlled for protection but some soot still managed to get in. We took the computers and broke them down, cleaned the parts and got them back up and running over the weekend. We keep tape backups of our database off site so we had our data available away from the facility.”

When the infamous Easter flood hit Jackson in 1979, hundreds of businesses were temporarily shut down. Even though it was devastating, most people had advance notice that rising water was headed their way.

“We had time to move out,” said John Dennery, owner of Dennery’s Restaurant, located across the street from the Mississippi Coliseum on High Street. “It didn’t catch us unaware. Fire is something you don’t have a clue about, but can wipe out your records. Fire would be the biggest disaster we would face. But thank goodness we haven’t had to.”

Even though Dennery had $100,000 of coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program, the total damage costs were much higher.

“The whole experience was definitely an eye opener,” he said. “We all thought the levee was going to take care of the water, but where the levee ended and the highway department began at Fortification Street it flanked the levee and filled us up. We are now properly insured against business interruption and to fix the building and take care of contents. We review our policies annually with our agents and make sure there are no gaps in the coverage and that regulations and financial needs haven’t changed.”

Dennery is concerned about another disaster that hasn’t gotten much play: a computer virus.

“Lately, I’ve been worrying more about computer viruses wiping out my records than anything else,” he said. “They’ve gotten so pervasive. You want to keep your material virus free and have plenty of backups.”

Jack Herrin, president of Herrin-Gear Autoplex, built the facility located at I-55 and High Street a year before the flood of 1979.

“We’re the only ones who built a facility like this and remodeled the next year,” he said, with a chuckle. “We learned a lot on this flood. The Corps of Engineers came to us and told us we may get a foot of water. Of course, we got 20 feet. Luckily, we got all our cars out of here. Some cars in the back that we were working on, we put on jacks and raised them all the way, assuming that 15 feet in the air would be high enough. It turned out they washed off. I remember driving a 17-foot ski boat onto our showroom floor and hooking it to the staircase. Our offices are upstairs in the main building so fortunately the water didn’t get that high. If we did it again, we’d move everything — desks, chairs, computers, files — and prepare for the worst.”

The temporary closure hit Herrin’s business hard. Even though he recruited volunteers — anyone with a valid driver’s license — to move cars first to Veterans Stadium, and then the Jackson Mall parking lot where salespeople sold vehicles from an onsite trailer for 90 days, the rest of the dealership, including the body shop and service and parts department, was closed for more than two months. Workers continued to be paid.

“I get a little bit nervous when the Pearl River starts rising,” Herrin admitted. “I’ve always got an eye toward that levee. What happened in 1979 is that the water came around the levee at Fortification Street. The levee directly behind me is plenty high enough but where it dipped, that’s where it came around. I guess we’re fortunate it hasn’t happened again.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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