Winter storm heads North—is your business ready?

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As a punishing winter storm makes the trek from the Deep South all the way up to New England this week, the harrowing conditions beg the question—is your business prepared for Mother Nature’s worst?

Snow, sleet, freezing rain, black ice. They’re some of winter’s greatest antagonists, but they don’t usually take us by surprise. With a little advanced planning, ensuring business continuity in the face of these challenges is something that any business of virtually any size can achieve.

And yet, too many companies still don't get it. According to this week’s report from SearchSMBStorage.com, half of all small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have no disaster recovery plans in place, based on results of Symantec's 2011 SMB Disaster Preparedness survey. The percentage of SMBs surveyed without DR plans was higher than last year, when 47% said they had no BC/DR plans.

Do you have a plan in place for when employees can’t make it to work due to severe weather? Chances are, if your customers are working; they expect you to be up and running too, regardless of weather conditions in your local market. Do you have mission-critical employees set up to work remotely? Or do you have a trusted outside partner to jump in and support your business in areas like network, DBA and OS management?

Disasters, of course, don't always arrive on the magnitude of this week’s winter storms. A power outage that lasts several days (even several hours, in this 24/7 world) can be disastrous 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 noted above, 50 percent of SMBs surveyed 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.
  • Your data center, whether onsite or outsourced, should have sufficient access to redundant power to ensures that, when severe weather strikes, the power grid is poised to deliver.

The Northeast is the next target for the storm moving up the coast. Here’s hoping that more than 50% of SMBs are ready for Mother Nature’s latest onslaught.