Over the course of the past six weeks, we have all been riveted to the cable news channels as a pair of hurricanes—first Hurricane Florence and then Hurricane Michael—advanced on the eastern United States. We knew what would happen when the storms made landfall; we knew that hundreds of businesses would be destroyed; we knew that lives would be lost and that communities would be disrupted. What we mostly didn’t know was which businesses would return to life and which would be gone forever.
You can take steps to help ensure that your business is one of those that can recover after a disaster, even when your facilities are destroyed and even when your employees are scattered to the wind. But you can’t do so by just by hoping. Passivity is the enemy of any effective disaster recovery (DR) plan.
Instead, you must start proactively planning for tomorrow’s disasters today. This means that you need to consider all of the factors that are critical to the survival of your business and to the return of your business after the disaster is over. Those factors need to include data protection and preservation, as you’d expect, but there’s more to recovery than just having good data backups. In fact, there are factors that are at least as important as your company’s data. These factors include your employees, a facility from which to work, a temporary production environment, and support services such as internet and telephone. Miss any of those and you won’t be in business even if you’ve backed up every bit and byte.
Communicate With Your Employees
According to Joseph George, Vice President of Product Management for Global Recovery Services for Sungard Availability Services, the factor that most planners forget is their employees. You have to plan for communicating with your employees before and during the disaster, and you have to plan for getting them back to work. This may be more complex than you’re probably thinking.
In addition, you have to plan for your communications environment following the disaster, if it’s affected. This also means that you need to consider that you can be affected by more than one type of disaster. For example, Florida may be at greater risk for hurricanes, but facilities there can also be damaged by tornadoes or they can lose data following a cyberattack.
People. Without your key employees, you can’t restore your business. Because of this, you need to plan for how your employees will be kept informed and how you will stay in touch with them. This means you will need to create detailed responsibilities for your employees, including where they will assemble after a disaster and what jobs they can do in addition to their own (in case not everyone can help with the recovery).
You will need to include plans for communicating after the disaster, knowing that cell phones will be unavailable and that landlines may also be out. This may mean a plan for communicating via text message and it may mean buying some satellite phones.
A Sungard Availability Services mobile office’s interior view. Credit: Sungard Availability Services
Facilities. If your offices are destroyed, damaged, or simply inaccessible, then you need a place to work that has access to the internet, phone lines, desk space, and computers. You may have an office in another city that you can use, assuming your employees can get there. But you may also want to contract with a DR service such as Sungard Availability Services, which can provide such space.
“One company in Florida contracted for one of our trucks,” George said, explaining how Sungard Availability Services is helping with recovery after Hurricane Michael. “Crews are making sure they have the right connectivity. They have satellite connectivity. We can contract for sites where people can go, far enough from disaster, but close enough that people can get there.”
A Sungard Availability Services mobile office’s exterior view. Credit: Sungard Availability Services
Connectivity. Many businesses really require only connectivity to operate rather than needing a full-blown alternate facilities site. By building a plan that organizes your employee teams into equivalent virtual teams, you can implement a DR plan simply by providing connectivity to company data and apps that employees can access from their home internet connections until the disaster is over. With the ubiquity of the cloud, this kind of approach has become popular for small to midsize businesses (SMBs). But beware that such a plan has many moving parts for which you won’t be able to rely on a service provider. Properly training employees on what to do is key to success. Additionally, your systems will also need to be prepped, not just from a connectivity aspect, but also for security and remote access considerations.
Data. You must have stored all of your required company data in a cloud location that’s far enough away from your facilities that it won’t be affected by the same disaster. This includes all of your local data, plus data on workstations and on mobile devices. You will also need machines that can receive this data when its time to recover the data needed to run your business.
Data Recovery 101
But there’s more than just data backups. You also need to practice recovering your data, and you need to test your procedures so that you know they’ll work. And you need to do this frequently. Testing must also include your employees, and this means making sure you can bring things back even if some of your employees didn’t make it through the disaster.
Chances are that you can’t do all of this by yourself. Few organizations have the bandwidth, much less the experience necessary to set up and manage their own their own DR. Fortunately, there are services that will help you that can provide any level of service you’re likely to need. Prior to the last 10 years, such firms would be expensive and offer services aimed mainly at well-heeled enterprises. But via cloud computing, new DR services have sprung up that make effective DR accessible to even the smallest of the SMB sector.
For companies that need a full-service option that can get them up and running in hours, including providing the equipment and facilities so your employees can get to work, there’s an option from companies such as Sungard Availability Services. The company’s services include data restoration, ranging from restoring your facilities to providing temporary facilities after a disaster in some of their DR trucks.
The companies using the cloud to aim their DR offerings at SMBs, are generally referred to as Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) solutions. Sungard Availability Services isn’t on this list (although it will be when the review roundup is updated), but it’s also one of the companies that can provide DRaaS.
When doing your planning, it’s important to keep in mind that you need what George calls a “healthy paranoia.” He said that you need a Plan B and a Plan C if your Plan A fails. You need to plan for the possibility that some of your employees may not be able to help, either because they’re badly affected by the disaster or because they didn’t survive it.
Ultimately, the key to surviving your next catastrophe is to plan, then plan for the contingencies, then test the plan, then fix what didn’t work, and then test the plan again. The planning is key, but so is the testing.