As with prior hurricanes, Florence is a reminder to all organizations of the importance of disaster recovery planning. When a storm approaches, a business’s first concern is protecting its employees/customers, and then its physical property. However, we shouldn’t forget that a natural disaster can also destroy information and technology assets critical to its success and continuity. Key steps to prepare and respond to a natural disaster can help minimize the blow. There are many aspects to comprehensive disaster recovery planning.
- Build the Right Team. Companies should be clear about what they are setting out to do and involve the appropriate segments of their organizations. Disasters do not just affect IT departments, they also affect the sales force, human resources, legal, finance, and management. Leadership from these and other business segments need to be at the table to ensure, among other things, appropriate coordination among the segments and an awareness of all available company resources. Excluding critical segments from the process will make it difficult to carry out the next critical step – assessing the risks. The IT department, whether internal or through a third-party vendor, must be well versed in disaster response.
- Conduct a Risk Assessment. Before an organization can develop a disaster recovery plan, it must first identify the information and technology assets it needs to protect, their locations, their role in the success of the business, their associated costs and the overall and specific risks that apply to those assets. Different disasters pose different risks and require different safeguards. It also is important to analyze how the organization’s operations would be affected upon the loss of vital components and assets, including identifying what information and technology systems are needed to safely keep the doors open.
- Employee/Customer Safety. Information and technology assets are critically important, but not at the expense of human life. Employees should be provided with guidelines on how to ensure their safety and that of customers, and be reminded that personal safety comes first.
- Develop a Plan. Having involved key personnel and assessed the risks, the organization is in a position to develop an enterprise-wide disaster recovery plan. The disaster recovery plan should be in writing and include the following:
- Keep it short. If your plan is too long, it will be difficult to absorb particularly in a difficult situation.
- Backup regularly and keep backups off site, in a safe location. Frequent and regular backups are critical to ensuring the preservation of important organization data, as well as the data it may maintain for others. A safe location also is critical. If a data center in lower Manhattan is underwater, being able to switch to another in California, Texas or the cloud will be essential to business continuity. The same is true for voice and electronic communications systems. Having critical business data replicated and stored off-site is a good “insurance policy” for any organization.
- Data Encryption. Encryption of sensitive and/or critical business data will prevent unauthorized users from gaining access and limit exposure.
- Don’t neglect laptops/mobile devices. Recovery plans tend to focus on the data center, however approximately two thirds of corporate data exists outside the data center. Moreover, laptops/mobile devices are far less resilient, for example, than data center servers.
- Employee Training. No one likes fire drills, but they serve a valuable purpose. Make your employees aware of the risks and steps they must take in case of a disaster.
- Test for recovery. Perform random recovery tests periodically. Audit the test, and confirm that all your data is recovered.
- Practice the Plan. When disaster strikes, the organization’s disaster recovery team will have to move quickly. Preparedness, therefore, is key. To be prepared, organizations should practice their plans to ensure personnel are ready to go.
- Update the Plan. As your organization changes, grows, and adds locations and new people, the disaster recovery plan also may need to change. A regular review of the plan is critical.
So, as you clean up from Florence or think about how your organization might be similarly vulnerable, assess whether your disaster recovery plan meets your needs. If not, make appropriate changes. If you think your business could have benefited from such a plan, there is no time like the present to develop one.