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Updated 2011-04-02

In the event that a University of Texas System institution should lose Internet connectivity as the result of an emergency such as a hurricane or other natural disaster, it may be critical for status information to be viewable by the local user community and the public via the institution's normal Web site URL.

The UT System Office of Telecommunication Services (OTS) is prepared to assist in this. At an institution's request, OTS can configure a "surrogate" or "emergency" Web server housed at an external site that will answer to the domain name of the institution's Web server. On this server, your institution would place an HTML page containing any emergency status announcements relevant to the situation. In the event that you lose network connectivity, OTS can make updates to the page for your institution, but our primary intent is that the page would be created and updated via SSH or SCP by your staff. Note that in the instructions below, liberal use of the UTMB.EDU domain name is made for illustrative purposes.

How to Create a Persistent Web Presence

If you want to create an emergency Web presence with OTS, please take the following steps:

Step 1. Send an email to OTS

Send email to persistent-web@the.net indicating your desire to use this service. Provide the names and contact information for any people that may be involved in this effort.

Once OTS receives your email, we will initiate the steps necessary to provide you with Persistent Web Presence service and will contact you when the set up is complete (or when we need additional information).

Step 2. Change the time-to-live value for your institutional Web server's zone file.

This step should be taken at least 24 hours in advance of an emergency outage. In the DNS zone file for your institution, change the time-to-live (TTL) value for your institutional Web server's resource record (A record) to 900 seconds (15 minutes), e.g.:

www.utmb.edu. 900 IN A [ip address]

Also, set the refresh timer in your DNS zone file to be 900 seconds (15 minutes) and the retry to be 300 seconds (5 minutes). Set the expire timer to be at least 1,209,600 (2 weeks).

By shortening the TTL value, you are limiting the amount of time during which a change in your Web server will be recognized. In an emergency situation such as a hurricane, you want your audience to have access to the news and information on the emergency Web server as soon as possible, so the TTL should be shortened to 900 seconds, or 15 minutes.

Step 3. Make certain you have an off-site secondary DNS domain name server

If there is no off-site secondary DNS domain name server for your domain, please make arrangements to get one now, preferably prior to any emergency situation. OTS will provide secondary DNS name service, when requested, for UT System institutions.

If an emergency is imminent, please call (512) 471-8530 and ask to speak to Donald Blais; otherwise, visit our Secondary DNS Name Service page for more information.

Please note that if OTS provides your secondary DNS domain name service, you will need to include an NS record in your zone file for the OTS name server, e.g.:

utmb.edu. IN NS ns2.ots.utsystem.edu.  

You will also need to update the registration records for the domain name (e.g., EDUCAUSE or Network Solutions) to show NS2.OTS.UTSYSTEM.EDU (206.77.62.130) as an additional name server for your domain. If you have a question about who your domain registrar is, please contact OTS.

Step 4. Test secure access to emergency Web server and prepare your announcement

Once OTS is providing persistent Web presence service for you, you will receive a phone call or email with the information and steps necessary to access the emergency Web server in Austin, including the server name, username, and password.

Once you have the access information, you need to test the secure access (e.g., SSH client or WinSCP) and post a test HTML file. Meanwhile, prepare the HTML file containing your emergency information or announcements.

 

Steps 5-6 are to be completed ONLY IF you need to enact the emergency Web presence.

Step 5. IF AN EMERGENCY IS IMMINENT — Edit your DNS zone file and restart your name server at least 2 hours in advance of network shutdown

  1. Insert a CNAME record in your DNS zone file, e.g.:
www.utmb.edu. IN CNAME disaster5.ots.utsystem.edu.  
  1. Comment out the 'A' record for your institutional Web server.
  2. Increment the serial counter in the SOA record of the zone file.
  3. Save the zone file.
  4. Restart the name server.

Leave the name server up for as long as possible before the campus network is shut down, but if you do shut down the institution's campus network as a precautionary measure or if you lose network connectivity, the secondary name server will begin to serve your domain name and direct users to the emergency Web server.

Step 6. WHEN THE EMERGENCY HAS PASSED — Return to normal operating procedures

  1. Restart your campus network.
  2. Remove the CNAME redirection in your DNS zone file.
  3. Uncomment the 'A' record for your on-campus name server.
  4. Remove the time-to-live value on the 'A' record.
  5. Return the refresh and retry timers to be 86400 (1 day) and 3600 (1 hour) respectively.
  6. Increment the serial counter in the SOA record of the zone file.
  7. Save the zone file.
  8. Restart your name server.