When the Worst Happens: A 10-Point Natural Disaster Recovery Checklist

“Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy” . . . an insightful quote by Max Mayfield, a man who knows a thing or two about natural disasters. Mr. Mayfield served as the director of the National Hurricane Center.

His point hits home for businesses affected by a natural disaster where the building – literally – can disappear. “What if …” is a phrase that can send chills down any business owner’s back. What if I can’t recover data? What if my business is suddenly shut down? What if we can’t access our computers? Where is my data backed up and how quickly can I access it? Do I have redundant backup? What do I need to do to get my business back up and running?

While some might think Chicago is off the grid for an earthquake, hurricane or monsoon, the fact is we live in a cold weather area where streets and buildings have the potential for flooding in winter. Fire, tornadoes and heavy snow are also possible hazards. The key is to be accountable for your technology infrastructure before an emergency strikes.

Here’s your 10-point natural disaster recovery checklist.

1.    Inventory hardware, wireless devices and applications.
This invaluable list will identify what you had before the crisis. Identify software applications, workstations, network infrastructure, mobile devices, data and hardware. It’s like having a list of your credit card numbers after losing your wallet or purse.

2.    Choose an off-site location. If you were staring at ground zero, where would your team go?

3.    Write a script for your mock relocation. Not too far off from staging a scene in a movie or play, document the steps needed to get hardware to the new location and people working. List the essential equipment you will need if you had absolutely no access to hardware at your original office. For example, a plumbing company might not need printers, but a law firm can’t operate without them.

4.    Rebuild from a data perspective.
Thinking about this now will save you heartache later: How am I protecting my company from data loss? When primary data storage goes down, the critical rebuild follows.

5.    Embrace redundant backup.
Fact: We can rebuild servers, we can’t rebuild data. Having a cloud-based backup solution should be one less reason to keep you up at night. Put backup policies in place so that key data and documents are not solely housed on local computer hard drives or on-premise servers.

6.    Know your downtime tolerance.
Put this at the top of your next leadership team meeting agenda. What happens if your business loses a few minutes? An hour? A day? A week? How fast do you need to be fully operating? What does “fully operating” look like relative to phone, applications, data and long-term sustainability? At 3Points, we construct solutions around your defined tolerance.

7.    A Plan B for your phones. Remember, you’ll have to get phones and data circuits back up. Have a plan in place where cell phones can be forwarded. It can take a month or more working with the phone company to get communications running.

8.    Schedule annual technology audits. No doubt, you’re busy running the business. So put an annual technology audit on the schedule. Think of it like an annual physical at the doctor’s office. An audit tells you how and where your data is backed up, retention times and details about your network. It’s the best way to prepare for a natural disaster because you see your IT footprint.

9.    Identify a remote access work plan.
Oftentimes, businesses have a piece of the plan rather than the entirety in response to a site disaster. Ask: What happens when I need to access data in case of an emergency? Disaster recovery is not just the site going away, but also the inability to access your worksite. A snowstorm is a great example. What systems are in place for people to access work remotely or does everybody just get a snow day? An ad agency, for instance could work remotely using mobile devices, but a manufacturer with millions of dollars of equipment standing still will want their ERP system in the cloud so back office workflow continues.

10.    If you are prepared, you most likely will be just fine.
Recently, a water pipe broke and flooded the basement of a client’s office. Within 24 hours, a 3Points project manager and technician implemented an 8-step process for how the company would transition to other offices. Their business will be fine. And so will yours as you learn and adopt best practices for a natural disaster recovery plan.