Protect Your Tech! Start Your Hurricane Preparation Now
Many businesses were impacted by the hurricanes of recent years, from Harvey and Irma in 2017 to Florence and Michael in 2018. Those that ultimately recovered had one thing in common—they were prepared ahead of time.
While we can’t prevent or anticipate all disasters or threats to our businesses, hurricane preparation plays a huge role in emerging from of such a storm intact. There are several aspects of your business to think about (for example, guiding and protecting your employees in the event of a hurricane, or developing and testing your plan to focus on efficiency and effectiveness). This article will focus on safeguarding and preserving your technology environment.
Sufficient hurricane preparation for your IT network and equipment involves two phases—your disaster recovery plan and your business continuity plan.
Disaster Recovery Plan
Your first step is to document a disaster recovery plan with logistical and technical information on what to do when a storm is on its way. Your plan should provide guidelines and direction for a swift response without a whole lot of thought. This gives you the best chance for immediate recovery of operations and data to get your business’ technology back up and running once the weather has cleared.
Components of your disaster recovery plan should include:
- Employee contact information and responsibilities – Identify the key players (managers, IT staff, C-suite personnel) who will respond, and outline their roles in the plan and how you’ll contact them. Train these staff members regularly on these procedures.
- Procedures to notify remaining staff – Set up a plan to contact the rest of your employees to let them know when (and for how long) your IT network might be down. Include all points and methods of contact in case primary phones and email systems don’t work.
- Vendor contact information – You need this information for those who provide critical services to your business:
- power company
- internet service provider
- hardware and software vendors
- security system
- insurance provider
Have relevant account numbers documented as well, but don’t put sensitive info in the plan itself. Instead, have this stored separately but readily available to the people who need it when a storm is approaching.
- System shutdown and startup procedures – If a hurricane is coming, don’t leave your servers running. Outline the procedures to shut them down, and document these steps in case your lead IT person isn’t available.
- Data backup and recovery procedures – Know what data is being backed up, how often, and by what system or method. Then specify the steps to recover it. (Check out our whitepaper on data backups and how to choose the best method for your business.)
- Evacuation/relocation procedures – Determine who evacuates and when. It’s a good idea to have an advance team leave before the storm; that team would take key info with them, such as a copy of your data backup. If the storm does hit, this critical data is already safe and you’re a step ahead when it comes to getting back in business.
The next phase in hurricane preparation is to have a business continuity plan—the processes and procedures to continue business operations during a disaster. This is the longer-term portion of your plan to use when you need to get back to business but circumstances are not quite normalized yet.
For example, let’s say you’re a healthcare provider and you need to reopen so your patients don’t suffer (and so you don’t lose money), but you have no power. You need to make provisions to keep your business going under these conditions.
Components to your business continuity plan should include:
- How to deal with local power or service outages lasting longer than six hours – Electric, internet, phone, water and other services will likely be temporarily unavailable. Your plans here could include a generator, fuel, bottled water, remote backup servers, and more.
- How to deal with a wide-area power or service outage – In such instances, power can be gone for days or weeks and gasoline shortages are common. What is a reasonable amount of fuel to keep? Can your generator run on propane or natural gas? Do you have a backup internet service provider if you rely on electronic contact with clients? These questions must be answered in your plan.
- Hardware replacement – Have steps to replace computers, servers or other IT equipment that has been damaged or destroyed. This could be a list of items you can quickly purchase (so you don’t have to browse and determine what you need), or possibly spare equipment stored elsewhere that you can use temporarily.
- Hot/cold sites – These are alternate sites to work from should your main location be rendered unusable. A hot site is already active and running with equipment ready to go; this could be another location of your business, your home, a business partner, etc. A cold site is simply a building where you could set up equipment and a workspace should the need arise. If you choose the latter, make sure you specify a quick setup procedure as part of your plan.
If it sounds like creating these two plans will take time… that’s because it does. But proper hurricane preparation is a small price to pay compared to the panic, aggravation and lost business resulting from lack of a good plan.
Both your disaster recovery and business continuity plans must be easily accessible and updated regularly for changes in personnel or business structure. You should also review and test them at least once a year to keep everyone in practice and make any necessary adjustments.
It’s also important to make your plans flexible enough to apply to a wide range of situations. While our topic at hand is hurricane preparation, disasters can strike any time of year and in many forms. Tornadoes, ransomware attacks, electrical issues and more can all cause catastrophic damage to your business’ IT environment. Built-in flexibility in the plans you create now will save you a lot of duplicate work down the road.
Finally, get advice from a reputable IT consultant. The Technology Consulting Services Team at James Moore helps a variety of business clients with their hurricane preparation efforts can answer any questions or concerns you have about your plans.