SDN Blog

Disaster recovery for businesses requires extensive planning today

Posted on Monday, April 21, 2014

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In April 2013, an unexpectedApril 2013 ice stormly bad ice storm devastated trees and power lines in Sioux Falls. The same storm system dumped more than two feet of snow in southwestern South Dakota.

The spring storm caused millions of dollars in damages and disrupted the lives of thousands of South Dakotans. The wreckage was extensive enough to qualify Minnehaha, Lincoln and several other counties for a presidential disaster declaration and help from federal relief programs.

Winter storms, tornadoes and floods caused three more official disasters during the remaining months of the year, making 2013 especially harsh for weather-related challenges in South Dakota.

Businesses in the Upper Midwest can, at least, prepare in a general way to cope with bad weather. They know it will be coming.

Human threats, such as terrorist attacks, cyber breaches and environmental accidents, are less predictable and also can seriously disrupt businesses. Those types of disasters also should be the subject of advance planning.

Cassie Baldwin heads up business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) planning at SDN Communications in Sioux Falls. Baldwin, a certified continuity manager, is also the Network Surveillance Center manager for SDN, which helps other companies and organizations protect electronic assets.

She is enthusiastic about BCDR, which is short for business continuity and disaster recovery. I interviewed Baldwin recently to pick up some tips to share with businesses that might be making or updating BCDR plans.

“Part of my passion is I care about the people I work with. I want them to be as safe as possible,” Baldwin says.

Factors such as regulatory compliance and insurance pressures are making BCDR is a hot topic in the business world, she says.

BCDR is actually two separate but related concepts that are crucial to business survival:

  • Business continuity refers to the process of ensuring that essential functions continue during and immediately after a disaster.
  • Disaster recovery refers to re-establishing normal business activity after a serious disruption.

BCDR planning is crucial to an organization’s long-term survival. Statistics indicate that companies that suffer a major disaster without a survival plan in place are likely to be out of business within 18 months.

Initial steps

One of the first steps a company putting together a BCDR plan should do is conduct a risk assessment, Baldwin says. That means to identify in detail all of the risks the organization faces.

A risk assessment also entails components such as identifying all functions necessary to continue operations and how well those functions currently are protected.

It should also identify cost-effective strategies for reducing vulnerabilities, Baldwin says.

Another early step that businesses should take is to conduct a business impact analysis. Such a study can help a business prioritize its functions.

From there, plans can be made to minimize the potential for damage and develop options and processes for business continuity and recovery.

The final plan will include everything from defining employees’ roles to securing buildings.

Lists of important information - employee contact information, for example - should be compiled and kept updated. Because computer systems can be knocked out of commission in disasters, critical information should be copied on paper or other removable media and stored securely.

Practicing for disasters is also important, Baldwin says. Businesses can test themselves with exercises such as building evacuations.  Ideally, they will have worked out prior agreements with other building owners in the vicinity so that employees have a secure place to go.

Baldwin credits Sioux Falls Police Officer Jim Larson for one of her favorite quotes:

“Your body can’t go where your mind has never been.”

The quote underscores the importance of preparation.

SDN gets help from Texas-based CHR Solutions Inc. in making and updating its internal plans for coping with disasters.

“They dived in really well and have done an excellent job. They are ahead of the curve,” says Dennis Rose, director of business continuity and preparedness for CHR. He has worked with SDN for about six years.

A lot of companies want to skip the risk assessment and impact analysis stages and go straight to compiling a detailed, strategic plan, Rose says, but that’s not the best approach.

In addition to disasters, companies should make plans to deal with the exodus of business expertise that Baby Boomers are taking with them as they retire, Rose says.

Regardless of the source of a threat to an organization’s existence, ensuring business continuity takes extensive and detailed planning, Rose and Baldwin say.

One possible resource to help businesses is the Association for Contingency Planners. Another possible resource is the Disaster Recovery Journal.

In addition, SDN offers services that can help businesses and organization secure their assets. Contact one of SDN’s account executives for details on how they can help support your BCDR efforts.