Preparing for disaster - do you have a business continuity plan?

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WRAL Local Tech Wire - Christopher "Kip" Turco - September 17, 2009

As anniversaries go, this is probably one that a lot of people would just as soon forget.

A decade ago, Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina. It wasn't supposed to be much, only a Category 2 storm. But it dropped more than a foot and a half of rain on an area already soaked from the foot of water left from Tropical Storm Dennis earlier in the month. The result, as WRAL refers to it, was "the worst natural disaster in the state's modern history."

Fifty-two people lost their lives due to the storm. Entire towns were flooded throughout the eastern part of the state, causing $6 billion in property damage. And innumerable businesses were negatively impacted, perhaps none more so than Hardees'. The hamburger chain's headquarters in Rocky Mount were swamped by waters from a nearby river; employees reported seeing water moccasins slithering in their offices. When the waters receded, the company reported damages of more than $5 million. More importantly, it decided to move Hardees' headquarters to California in a consolidation with its corporate parent. About 150 North Carolinians lost their jobs as a result.

Floyd, perhaps more than any other event in recent memory, also redefined what companies must do as part of their disaster recovery and business continuity strategies. Many companies realized, for the first time, that simply backing up their data on tape and taking it home at night does not constitute a sufficient plan for what happens when things go wrong. The hurricane may have been the worst storm to ever strike the Carolinas, but it also forced businesses to confront the inevitability that they must be prepared well in advance for when, not if, things go wrong.

And yet, too many companies still don't get it. A recent survey reported that one in five businesses do not have a business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan in place. And for the third year in a row, the survey found that nearly 30 percent of U.S. businesses don't consider business continuity planning a priority.

Disasters, of course, don't always arrive on the magnitude of a Hurricane Floyd. A power outage that last several days (even several hours, in this 24/7 world) can spell business disaster for firms that rely on continuous access to their corporate-critical information. Fires, wind storms, even a cable severed by an errant backhoe...the potential for each of these can keep executives up late at night, worrying about the "what ifs" involved.

So, plan now. Understand that while business continuity covers every aspect of your operations, your network and other IT functions should be at the top of your list. A checklist should include key items such as:

  • Develop a BC/DR plan; as outlined above, 20 percent of American businesses don't even have one.
  • Determine which company functions should take priority in the immediate effort to keep your company running. In a short-term emergency, not every single function can be replicated, nor should it be.
  • Figure out, in advance, an alternate operating site. If your headquarters is not accessible, you need to move quickly.
  • Communications; your employees, suppliers and customers must know how to reach you. Have a plan for reaching out to all of them ready to go.
  • Your data and networks should be, at a minimum, backed up and mirrored offsite. Firms that have outsourced their operational infrastructure to outside vendors have already taken care of that issue.

In today's Rocky Mount Telegram, there is a telling quote: "There was Rocky Mount before the flood. There is Rocky Mount after the flood." Companies of all sizes should take Floyd's lessons to heart, so that they are not in the same position when the next disaster strikes.