Many days go by unplanned - heads down, noses to the grindstone, just trying to get by. Then, it happens - some unexpected glitch throws your entire world on its backside. It may be something trivial, like knocking over your coffee cup. Or, it could be 2 feet of snow or a hurricane, flood, fire, earthquake. Or, it could just be someone calling in sick. In any event, your day changes and you need a way of coping with those changes.
With just a little bit of planning and only a few minutes out of your day, you can stay ahead of disaster and reduce your chaos when faced with an uplanned event.
Communication - People First
As mentioned above, human assets are above all others. Communicating before, during and after a disaster is essential to any and all plans. Disaster preparation and recovery involve people at all stages - the first part of your plan must address communication.
- How will you communicate? If there is a loss of power, you could also lose your normal communication channels - very few phones work without power, even if the phone lines are still intact.. Will you use cell phones, text messages, emails, website updates? Take time to define the channels of communication you will use before, during and after an event
- Who will you communicate with? Staff, vendors, families, neighbors, media outlets are some of the many people connected to you.
- When will you communicate and how often? Each situation may have different communication needs - be sure to lay out a schedule of updates once your plan goes into effect.
- In your preparations, be sure you have a contact list of people in several different forms - you may not be able to retrieve them from your contact list on your computer when you need them.
- Establish a calling tree to spread news and updates and also get a contact outside the potential disaster area that can be your communications hub. Sometimes making a long distance call will be easier than trying to call within the affected area.
Documentation - Putting the Pieces Back Together
What I find is the most critical piece of equipment or information is usually the least known and documented. You only discover how critical it is when it breaks, gets turned off, or the person who knows what it does isn't around. Then there is a mad scramble to figure out what and where that component is. Things you think you'll never need again will become the most sought after artifacts when disaster strikes - software licenses, technical support phone numbers, contact lists, bank account numbers, installation disks and configuration information are a short list of things to have written down and stored safely in more than 1 place.
- What's missing? Who's missing?
- Where does this go?
- Whose is this?
- Where do we get another one of these?
Documentation also needs a backup and backups need documentation
- Where are the backups?
- Who did the backups?
- When were backups last done?
- What didn't get backed up?
- How do we restore the backups?
- If your documentation is on paper, consider scanning it and having it in electronic forms. Likewise, if it only electronic, consider printing copies and storing them in watertight containers or offsite - outside the disaster zone.
- Create a video inventory of your facility - show the items and describe them as you record. Identifying items after they've been burned or covered in muck isn't as easily done. Some things to include are the network cabinet, the phone system and smaller items that can get completely washed away or destroyed.
- Don't forget to protect your software investments - place installation CD/DVDs and licenses in watertight containers and take offsite.
Backups - Filling in the Details
What, How, Where, Do they work?
- It's as easy as 3-2-1 Create 3 copies, on at least 2 different media and store at least 1 offsite.
- Know what to keep and what to throw away Managing multiple versions of a backup can lead to even more chaos. Having a document in 5 different folders doesn't make life any easier when you have to determine which one you actually need.
- Will it work on new hardware or with the new version of software? You won't find many new computers that come with a 3.5" floppy disk drive. Make sure you upgrade your media as you upgrade your systems. Also, stay current on your software! Even if you have the original installation files, you may not be able to get it to work on a newer computer.
- If you have backup software already installed, make sure it is running and working.
- Use several different backup media. An internal harddrive or even a network storage device is just as much at risk as your computer. Portable USB storage drives are inexpensive and most come with backup software, too. Burn copies of backups to a CD or DVD and mail them offsite.
- There are several different online backup solutions that can backup your critical systems on a daily basis. These solutions will provide you with a very remote backup, but can also give you access to that data from anywhere.
People - First and Last
Often, our disaster preparation only covers loss of a physical asset, like a computer or building. People are the most vital part of your organization and you should have contigencies for every type of transition in staffing or people.
- Who can do what you do? Everyone has their unique talents and responsibilities, but you'll definitely burn out if no one else can chip in and lend you a hand from time to time. Their proficiency may not be the same as yours, but they should be able to get the job done on your day off or if you're sick.
- Who knows what you do? I've seen it happen more than once - someone leaves and the countless little things they did don't get done anymore. Eventually, they get discovered and addressed, but sometimes those little things can be big headaches.
- Who has the computer? More people are working from home, or bring their personal computers to work. It can save on your expenses, but this also poses a risk. Is sensitive data being kept secure? Do you have access to their work in progress when they are not on site?
This is the area that requires the most prayer and probably some of the most difficult conversations. Please don't let this prevent you from having the necessary discussions about your most valuable assets. Remember, you are a resource, too.
Some disasters are very short-lived and the recovery is fairly quick. Sometimes, you'll wonder if it will ever end so you can start the process of recovery. Use these questions to evaluate your position for extended periods of adversity.
- How long can you go unplugged? Do you have backup power supplies? Would a backup generator be appropriate? How long will your phone or laptop stay charged?
- How long can you go without Internet access?
- How long can you go without fresh water, heat, or food?
- What would it take for you to relocate and continue?
- How many people would it take just to keep things running?