How Panicking During a Natural Disaster Doesn’t Help Your Business

We have no power and won’t for how many days? How do we prepare for the next disaster?

In the Western NY area yesterday (3-8-2017), we were hit with hurricane-force winds for a bit that have caused lots of downed power lines, trees, flipped over trucks, and derailed trains.  The two major power companies from the area are saying 2-3 days before power will be back on for everyone, and this doesn’t include your internet service provider’s repairs. An outage of this length hasn’t happened since the famous “Ice Storm of 1991”, 26 years ago. The area does experience periodic outages, but, they’re usually a few hours and not multiple days. Here is a quick and easy guide to follow when considering options:

As a business, how do you prepare for this? What things should you consider?

  • How much physical hardware do you have?
    • What processes run on each server; What is critical to business function what can you do without for a few days?
  • What about your phone system?
  • How many switches need to operate?
  • How many routers do you have?
  • Do you need HVAC for the server room only?
  • ISP Connection (modem or bridge)?
  • Battery Backups?
  • Desktops for users or laptops?
  • Monitors?

Should you consider a cloud option for your data? You can’t move anything once there is an emergency.  Moving 20 TB’s of data takes lots of time, energy, and resources you don’t have right now. This also takes weeks (if not months) of planning, as the data being somewhere else isn’t the only consideration.  You will also need to consider how you will provide access that data, do you have the bandwidth for users to connect to it, do you have the security infrastructure to access it? And even if you do have all those things planned, are you users in any better condition to be able to connect to these hosted resources? Do they have power and internet?

Sure, you can run out and just rent a generator if needed! But, keep in mind these are usually meant to run a refrigerator and a furnace and not much else, and are not very adept to sensitive things like servers and electronic equipment. This will also need to be planned well in advance. Your servers consume a lot of power and you will need to buy a generator that can handle not only the type but the level of power they consume. Your HVAC system also needs to be running; unless it is winter and you can open doors to the outside and have air that is at least below 60 circulating through your server room.  You need to make sure you have a panel box wired to connect a portable generator. You should also have a power conditioner between the generator and your equipment to protect from fluctuations, this is something that a properly setup server room should already have, however. If your switches are not located in your server room you will need to figure out how to get power to where both they and your ISP modem are, as well.  Now you also need to consider if you can supply power to your whole office, for lights, computers, etc.  You also should consider the safety of using a generator with their fumes etc. and where you will get fuel for it.

Having a generator backup for your business that will auto-switch-over if your power is out for a set period of time, is a great option.  There is lots of planning that goes into this option as well but once it is in place, there is little other than maintenance that you need to do with it.  However, does this make much sense for your business? These generator systems can cost between $5,000 to $40,000 and up depending on your business needs.  Will your business lose enough money being down for a day or three to justify the expense? A business should consider the cost of lost production time before considering these kinds of systems.  Usually, the cost for the generator itself is only about half the total cost of the implementation for one of these systems.

If planning for natural disasters wasn’t a priority before the disaster occurred, how can you be prepared for it at all?
Jumping to ideas in the midst of a disaster isn’t realistic, in most cases. The only way to properly plan for these kinds of issues is to create a proper Backup and Disaster Recovery plan. This plan should outline what process and procedures should occur, who should be contacted, and who is in charge.  If your Backup and Disaster Recovery plan don’t cover an event, it needs to be revised, until your Backup and Disaster Recovery plan works for every scenario you feel the business might come across, within budgetary reason, of course. As business management, it is on you to assess the cost and benefits, and the real-world risk of each possible scenario.

Every business needs to plan for the worst-case scenarios long in advance of having something happen. Being in the middle of a disaster is too late to consider “what do we do now”; you just make the best of it and be sure to plan ahead before the next disaster comes along.