Career / Career Progression

How to be an IT Hero When Natural Disasters Strike

by Team Nuggets
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Published on May 4, 2017

Natural disasters are an unfortunate reality for most of us. But as an IT pro, the impact of natural disasters takes on a whole new level of meaning. According to a World Bank report, the cost of global natural disasters is $520 billion of consumption loss each year, 60 percent more than the most commonly reported asset losses.

Windstorms, tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes are among the types of natural disasters that cause losses. However, we can't always predict how strong a natural disaster will become.

One minute, strong winds, and the next minute, a tornado is roaring through your city! Yet, how can we keep our businesses running? More importantly, how can we keep our IT assets and company data safe?

Natural disasters cause a decrease in human consumption and can result in significant downtime.

In 2016, downtime cost U.S. businesses 700 billion dollars; ouch! When uber-retailer Amazon suffers an outage, it costs them an astounding $66,240 per minute. So, how can you save the day when an unexpected disaster strikes?

List all business-critical systems and data within your company.

One of the leading causes of downtime is power outages, which are often much more severe when caused by natural disasters. Corporate data is a highly critical asset for every business. Regarding disaster recovery, separating your mission-critical data from your non-mission-critical data is imperative.

This helps you to prioritize your recovery plan in the event of a tornado, flood, earthquake, or any other type of natural disaster. The most valuable data sources will have the biggest financial impact on your company if lost due to an extended power outage.

Design a disaster recovery plan.

Building a disaster recovery plan allows you to be prepared when disaster strikes. This type of plan explains the steps all employees must follow during and immediately following a disaster. It should include exit procedures, instructions for communications, locations for emergency supplies, information on business and data backup, and any other information critical to the business and safety of your clients and employees.

Think of which business functions need to be back online first. Once you determine what's the most important, create a system restoration priority plan for maintaining a safe recovery of all mission-critical systems. Review the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-34 to help develop an unwavering disaster recovery plan.

Living without a plan puts your company and clients at risk.

It should go without saying that your organization needs a business continuity plan when Mother Nature gets cranky. The main components should include:

  • Understanding the entire scope of the recovery effort

  • Looking for interdependencies between functions and business areas

  • Including a roadmap for maintaining operations

  • Your disaster recovery plan

  • Determining important business areas

Your continuity plan should also include contact information for emergency responders and backup site providers. Having the right backup and recovery systems can help prevent panic and chaos.

You might remember the summer of 2013, when Alberta, Canada, experienced its worst flooding in recorded history. It was Canada's most expensive natural disaster at around $1.7 billion in damages. Many companies had no choice but to abandon their data centers.

Those who were well-prepared could migrate their mission-critical data sets to remote centers, allowing them to continue operations without disruption. Well-planned solutions can avoid total disaster and outrageous losses.

Regularly test your recovery procedures.

Think of your disaster recovery plan as a fire drill. Regularly testing its validity is essential to ensure everything works as intended and modify as needed. Your strategy is only good if it works. You should also review your business continuity plan every year.

Get in a conference room with your designated recovery team and look for any gaps in your plan. In today's fast-changing business environments, priorities continue to evolve. You might also experience significant changes in your organization over a year.

These types of changes will alter your restoration priorities. An annual or even semi-annual review will ensure your business continuity plan is always aligned with your current business requirements.

The cloud is one answer.

Investing in tools that protect your data helps ensure business survival in any situation. When data is stored in more than one place, you can expect a more reliable and consistent recovery.

Your clients rely on your business to handle their data securely and efficiently. They are investing in your products and services, and as a result, they deserve a strong continuity plan.

When you protect your customers, you are protecting yourself. If something causes that trust to erode, you could face potential lawsuits and unrecoverable losses in sales and reputation. If an unexpected catastrophe were to damage your physical office, a cloud-based storage system can keep your data safe and accessible from any point of operation.

Plus, the cloud gives your employees universal access from any location. Employees can still work off-site if they can't make it to work due to power outages, snow storms, trees blocking roadways, or something else. If work is slowed down, your company will lose money. This is why addressing potential issues before they occur saves costs over the long term.

What if the internet goes down?

According to a 451 Research study, enterprises spend about 28 percent of their IT budgets on hosting and cloud services. For some of the potential issues mentioned above, businesses increasingly rely on external sources for management, security, storage, infrastructure, and applications.

So, if a natural disaster strikes, you can still access your data anywhere else, right? But, what if a natural disaster is so large that it also cuts off your internet connection? How long can your business survive without it?

Traditional disaster recovery plans often look at on-site problems. But, you must also consider what might happen if you had to work without the internet for a few days or even a week. The event that disrupted operations at your central office location can do the same to internet connectivity.

Smaller operations may fold after a day without an internet connection. In this instance, it is imperative to run a drill to observe how your employees react to an internet outage. The goal is to determine which departments are affected the most. Who can still get work done, and which department(s) must shut down?

Relying on an internet connection with a single point of failure is no longer optional. It would help if you had redundancy for connectivity, as well. To help sustain losses during an extended outage, you might look at satellite connectivity with a specified provider or even LTE wireless service.

It would be best if you had a backup internet connection. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), over 40 percent of businesses will never reopen after a major natural disaster. Of those that do, only 70 percent last two years.

As you can see, being prepared with a a business continuity plan when disaster strikes is essential for your success. Creating and maintaining your plan should be a top priority. Always make sure it addresses all likely and even "unlikely" disasters. When you plan for the unexpected, you'll indeed become an IT hero.


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