The Atlantic hurricane season is upon us, and any business that counts this major weather event as a potential risk factor needs to be prepared for the worst (even while hoping for the best). Here’s what you need to know in order to secure your business and allow operations to continue beyond this type of natural disaster.
Hurricane Season Overview
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 – November 30. It is expected to be an active season too, with 16 named storms and 8 hurricanes predicted.
To date, there have already been 10 named storms, including Harvey (an unprecedented storm impacting Texas), Irma (expected to hit Florida), and now forming right behind that one, Jose.
The biggest risks from a hurricane are the strong winds and -- as we just witnessed during Hurricane Harvey -- the heavy rains. This combination of wind and rain can result in major flooding and felled trees (both of which can block roadways), power outages and even direct damage to your operating facility if the storm is severe enough.
This represents a threat to your business beyond the immediate risks because extended downtime due to a power outage or flooding equals lost sales, lost productivity and lost revenue. Even worse, it can damage your brand’s reputation if your ability to recover is limited by a lack of pre-planning.
Business Continuity Tips for Emergency Situations
Even if you haven’t put together a formal business continuity plan (yet) and a hurricane is imminent, there are still some things you can do to prepare. (Of course, if you aren’t in “emergency mode” you should still do all of these things, plus set aside time to properly create a comprehensive business continuity plan. See more on that below.)
- Assign a point person to head up your Disaster Recovery (DR) plans and communications.
- Communicate proactively with your team. Provide regular updates on what plans are in place, what is still being worked out. If you are in the projected path of a hurricane, your staff will have questions - now is not the time to go dark.
- Update or create a contact list that includes cell phone numbers and non-work emails for all staff – this will allow you stay in touch with your team during and after a weather event.
- Update or create a contact list for all your partners and vendors so that you can contact them as needed even if your physical office is inaccessible.
- If time allows, test at least your critical backups before the storm hits.
- If you don’t have time and/or you don’t have proper data backups in place, Plan B would be to relocate your physical equipment (laptops, PC’s, servers) to a safe location(s), particularly if your location is in a high risk area.
- Recognize the “what if” scenarios that may occur, and where possible, decide on contingencies BEFORE the storm hits. For example, what if employees can’t get to the office the following business day? What if your supply chain gets interrupted...do you have a backup source? What if your physical location is inaccessible for an extended period after a storm due to a power outage or flood damage (or both)? Are shipments to/from your business going to be delayed?
- Based on those contingency plans, instruct your team on what to take with them from the office. If you have VoIP phones, for example, staff can potentially take their handset home and then work remotely as needed. Laptops can also be taken home.
- Is there an alternate site or satellite office that is not in the path of the storm where some or all of your team can work from in the short-term? Consider this and make arrangements as needed.
- Have a plan to communicate with staff, customers and other stakeholders during and after the hurricane, and then stick to it. If shipments will be delayed, alert customers proactively and keep them updated.
While keeping your employees and customers safe is going to be your number one priority in the event of a hurricane, keeping your business running during this type of disaster should be on your mind as well.
Make Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning a Business Priority
Even if you are reading this and you have a DR plan in place, it’s important to understand that it’s not a “one and done” type of project.
Your DR plan needs to be written down and then reviewed annually at minimum, but ideally 2-3 times per year.
It should be practiced and tested with dry runs, and all employees – including new hires – need to be familiar with it.
Take critical systems offline with a planned outage to test your failover systems. And always test your backups reguarly.
Between staff turnover, growth, system upgrades and infrastructure changes, a lot can change in just 12 months for a business.
If you need help getting started, the Small Business Administration provides some helpful resources online. Through a site called preparemybusiness.org you can access a wealth of resources that you can use to assist with your overall disaster preparedness.
Whether you’re updating an existing plan or just getting started, the core objective here is to keep your business running in the face of any type of disaster. And in every case, it’s necessary to focus on at least these two areas – your technology and your people.
Any business that operates in an area that is at risk for severe storm or hurricane activity must be prepared for anything. Suggested preparations include:
- Off-site data backups (we recommend and provide as part of our Managed IT Service plans hybrid backups that include both on-site backups of all devices and cloud-based backups for critical data)
- Cloud-based applications that can be accessed from any locations, allowing the flexibility to enable remote workstations such as home offices (example: Office 365 is a cloud-based solution that offers employees familiar Office productivity tools that can be accessed from virtually anywhere)
- The ability to restore IT operations in the cloud and/or at a site that is unaffected by the storm
- The ability to communicate with staff, customers and other stakeholders about storm preparation, and provide status updates in the aftermath. This can be managed in a variety of ways, including the company website, an outside cloud-based email service, Intranet posts or even text messages.
Even if your operating facility is unaffected, that doesn’t mean that your employees’ homes aren’t. If they can’t get there due to flooding or blocked roadways, productivity is still at risk. For that reason, your DR and business continuity planning should include:
- Ability to establish remote offices, even on a short-term basis; this includes alternate plans for shipping/receiving, mail processing, etc.
- Availability of a temporary worksite that is in an area unaffected by the storm. This might be a satellite office, a partner’s conference room, or even one of the shared workspaces that are becoming increasingly popular in city centers.
- An internal communications plan (along with a current contact list) for keeping in touch with employees and keeping your team informed about recovery steps.
While the risks of a hurricane are very serious, businesses almost always have advanced warning of an approaching storm of this magnitude. Don’t make the mistake of deciding that these hurricane warnings are always overblown, and therefore planning for impact is a waste of time.
The “cone of uncertainty” surrounding a storm this big is always going to be large and difficult to predict, but it’s far better to be over-prepared than to suffer heavy business losses because you weren’t prepared for the worst.
Disaster recovery isn’t just an IT problem – it’s a business problem. Failure to respond appropriately to a hurricane -- or any other type of disaster -- can have catastrophic consequences.
So the real question isn't, "Is your business prepared for a hurricane?" The critical question is whether or not you are ready to keep your business running in the face of any type of disaster.
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