Start Planning Now for a Better Recovery
Hurricane Season is upon us, and the predictions and forecasts are generating many of the same questions in recent years:
Will we see El Niño this year, which may inhibit hurricane activity in the Atlantic?
How warm will the tropics be this year, and what will that mean for hurricane intensity?
These and many other hurricane questions are often difficult to answer accurately and confidently, even by the experts. However there is one question with a simple and certain answer.
When should you start planning for Hurricane Season? Now.
Hurricane Season begins June 1 and runs through November 30.
Although most of the powerful hurricanes generally occur between August and October, we have seen tropical systems appear earlier and sometimes even before the official June 1 start of the season. The reality is that we never know when and where these systems will form, so best practice is to have your organization’s plan ready to go by June 1.
When you consider the difficultly in completing this type of planning during the summer months with vacation schedules and other competing priorities, the best time for most organizations to complete their hurricane planning is in May or June.
We have reviewed many hurricane plans from a variety of organizations, businesses, and municipalities over the years, and have seen first-hand where most of these plans fall short. Following are three of the most common issues we see in hurricane plans that could lead to a poor or lengthy recovery from the next storm.
Does your Hurricane Plan suffer from any of the following issues?
1) Detailed preparation but vague recovery
Most hurricane plans we review fall into this trap. The plan may have 20 pages of detail covering the actions to be performed leading up to the hurricane, but only one or two pages of actions after the hurricane. The preparatory steps are important, but the recovery steps are even more important. The purpose of your plan should be a quick and effective recovery, so don’t skimp on this section of your plan.
2) Assumption of immediate return
Many hurricane plans assume that everyone will be able to return to their office, business, and homes very soon after the hurricane passes. Unfortunately, the failure to plan for lengthy evacuations can lead to disastrous results, and these stories have been told repeatedly after Katrina and Sandy. Make sure your plan anticipates the need to establish temporary office and housing inland for extended periods of time.
3) Limited or no alternate communications
Most of the plans we review do not have adequate redundancy for communication systems. After life safety, communications is the top priority for any organization following a hurricane or any other disaster. It is an all too common, but faulty assumption that standard landline, cellular, or internet access will be available following a significant regional disaster like a hurricane. Plans must account for the need for alternate communications to your employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders.
We will cover additional hurricane planning tips in future articles. Please share your questions about your hurricane plan so we can address those as well.
Now is the time to start, review, or update your Hurricane Plan. Start by taking our Readiness Assessment to benchmark your organizational readiness for hurricanes and other disasters. Then contact us for a complementary review or your Hurricane Plan by one of our certified experts.
Mount Pleasant IT Firm Dodges Catastrophe
A security alarm immediately notified employees and triggered a call to the fire department.
“I could see smoke pouring out of the windows by the time I got to the office around 7 o’clock,” said Willis Cantey, founder of Cantey Technology.
Lightning surged through the IT company’s network connections, despite surge protection devices, and started a blaze which destroyed their network closet. Even though the building didn’t burn to the ground, the fire melted and burned cables, computer hardware and networking equipment beyond repair.
“It looked like a charred marshmallow,” said Cantey, describing the damage he surveyed in the aftermath.
When you run an IT company and hosting client servers and data is your bread and butter, the destruction of your network infrastructure is the last thing you want to happen.
But, despite the fact that Cantey and his staff were forced to work in a temporary location for several weeks, their clients never felt the effects of the disruption.
“Our clients had no idea.”
Cantey Technology’s 200 clients had no idea lightning struck the company’s office, because there was no interruption in service.
Five years ago, Cantey began implementing a business continuity plan. This involved moving all of his client servers to a remote data center and scheduling continual data back-ups.
Before the fire, Cantey Technology’s data was safely stored in Immedion’s Ladson, South Carolina data center. The data was still there after the fire.
The data center even allowed Cantey and his employees to set up a temporary office in its conference room, so they could have a central location from which to continue serving their customers.
Had Cantey not put a plan in place, he firmly believes his story would’ve turned out much differently.
“If we didn’t take continuity of operations seriously, if we had our client servers on site, didn’t back up data, we wouldn’t be in business right now.”
Cantey and his 17 employees are now back in their office. Reflecting on his experience with disaster, he urges business owners to think about the ‘what ifs’.
“What if there is a fire? What do you do the next day?”
Cantey says the bottom line is to have a plan. For him, it provided a roadmap to follow during the recovery process, so he didn’t lose customers. Having a plan ultimately saved his entire business.
And here’s a little known fact: Atlantic’s planning processes will prepare you for many potential disruptions to your business. Fire, flood, hurricane, loss of key employee, IT meltdown and more. Remember, we can’t predict; but we can plan. Just ask Willis Cantey.
Interested in a faster recovery from any disaster? We can help you get started. Contact us today for a no cost, no obligation site visit.
Don’t let your organization become a sad statistic.
The one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy provides us with a great reason to step back and assess our organizations’ readiness to respond to natural disasters and other unplanned business disruptions.
If we don’t take the time to do so, we should be prepared for another outcome: that our organization will be greatly impacted and become part of the sad news statistics of lengthy and costly recovery.
Even post-Sandy, recent research conducted by cloud solutions company Carbonite finds that only 22% of SMBs (small and medium businesses) feel “very prepared” for a natural disaster. What a shame, when numerous tools and resources are readily available that incorporate lessons learned from Sandy and other such impactful events.
If you want your organization’s post-disaster story to end well, start by preparing a disaster or business continuity plan and then test your plan. Without testing your plan, you really have no idea how it will work under the stress and strain of an actual disaster or major disruption to your organization’s operations.
Yes, we know the reasons few organizations plan and even fewer regularly test their plans: no time; other priorities; don’t know where to start; and, the kicker: no matter what type of planning my organization has done, how will we really know it will work in the event of an actual disaster or emergency?
SOLUTION: Imagine a real hurricane scenario and run an exercise.
A few weeks ago, more than 30 Lowcountry organizational leaders gathered in Mt. Pleasant and participated in a two-hour, fast-paced, mock hurricane exercise workshop. Most of those in attendance had been living in the Charleston region or otherwise affected by Hurricane Hugo in September 1989, and none were new to disaster or emergency planning.
Most organizations represented had some type of disaster planning in place. But by challenging participants with a series of questions and exercises like we described above, illustrating real-world impacts that would likely be felt from a hurricane impact in Charleston, we created a great learning experience and a real sense of urgency for participants to improve their organizations’ planning processes.
No one felt their organization was nearly as ready as they should be for an actual hurricane or other major disruption to their business!
Remember, these are leaders in organizations that are paying attention to the need for planning – after all, they took the time to attend our workshop. What does this imply for your own organization?
Time for a quick reality check.
If a real emergency or disaster were to strike, and whether your organization has done extensive planning, some planning, or no planning at all, ask and answer a few questions honestly:
- What is the likelihood your organization would be quickly back up and running normally, with employees knowing just what needs to be done when, and by whom, including alerting customers who may be awaiting news or at least expecting normal communications from your organization?
- How long would it take to resume normal operations – communications with employees about the disruption, what’s being done, how long it will take to remedy, what to say to which customers, who will do the communicating, and how?
Feeling unsettled yet?
If you are, and you feel that it will be difficult to gain management or senior staff’s attention to disaster planning, let alone approval to begin, we suggest a simple solution. Call a short meeting of key people and run your own, short emergency or disaster response drill with simple questions like:
- How exactly will we communicate if cell phones are down and key people are out of the office?
- How will we cover cash flow needs if we can’t conduct business as normal for a lengthy period…insurance, cash reserves..how much will we need for how long?
It’s quite easy to think of key questions that would quickly emerge if your organizations technology and normal business operations were disrupted for a lengthy period. Brainstorm with a colleague to prepare a list of questions, then call a meeting that should surely serve as a wake-up call for all.
- If your organization has any type of plan, ask around to find out if it has ever been tested? When, how, and by whom?
- Assess your organization’s readiness. Utilize or modify Atlantic’s Readiness Assessment (found here) and have a few of your colleagues fill it out independently.
Unsettled by what you discover? Call Atlantic – we can create simple, low-cost exercises for your organization that are very effective at discovering gaps and deficiencies in your planning process.
Want to schedule a visit? Click here to request a free, on-site Readiness Assessment today!
Want to know the first steps that local pharmacy owners can take to create an effective disaster recovery or business continuity plan? Atlantic’s Scott Cave was recently featured as a guest blogger for Waypoint Strategic Advisors. Read more at Waypoint’s Community Pharmacist Blog.
What the business wants isn’t always what the business needs.
One of the most challenging areas of business continuity is planning for IT downtime. Most organizations have become so dependent on technology, they believe they can’t operate without uninterrupted access to their email, business applications, and data. Many organizations fall into the trap of believing that downtime is not an option for their technology. That mindset leads to an unfocused disaster recovery strategy, frequently accompanied by overspending. As with most critical decisions like this, it is imperative that organizations separate their emotional wants from their objective needs by first focusing on their foundational business requirements for technology access.
Very few organizations we meet have sufficiently answered the question, “How much do we really need our IT systems and data?” Without a quantitative approach to answer this question, the default answer becomes driven more by the wishes and desires of those answering the question, and the strength of their argument or standing in the organization. This can be a disastrous approach when faced with an extended business disruption.
Objectivity beats guessing & emotion.
The good news is that there is a proven, quantitative approach that allows an organization to very clearly define how much IT downtime is tolerable — not just for the entire organization, but most importantly, for each critical business function. We do this by asking some simple questions and quantifying the actual impact of downtime in at least three areas:
- Financial impacts
- Impacts on customers, contracts, and agreements
- Brand and reputation impacts
By examining the IT downtime impacts on all aspects of your business, we are able to objectively determine exactly what the organization really needs from IT. The end result is a set of business requirements that drives IT Disaster Recovery (DR) planning and, most importantly, results in an organization that can more quickly resume normal operations after a disruption.
The added benefit is that all of your organization’s stakeholders can participate and agree upon your IT DR Plan. As resources and investments are made to support the plan, they are allocated with full confidence that the business requirements are driving the strategy. In other words, organizations can achieve true IT resiliency by focusing objectively on what the business needs instead of what individuals may want or think they need.
RESOLVE TODAY: Take a look at your IT Disaster Recovery Plan and ask these questions:
- Do we identify how much IT downtime we can tolerate?
- Do we identify how much data loss we can tolerate?
- If so, where did the number(s) come from? Is it what we need or what we want?
- How often do we review this foundational information to ensure our IT strategy stays in step with our changing business requirements?
If you need help with this process, we stand ready to assist you. Put our experience and knowledge to the test, and ask for a complimentary review of your IT Disaster Recovery Plan. We’ll make sure we give you an unbiased opinion on whether you are basing your IT decisions on your needs or wants.
Eliminate the guesswork in resuming operations after a major disruption.
If you have followed our Resolve to be Resilient series so far, and have taken our recommended action steps, you have identified your organization’s greatest vulnerabilities and risks and have considered the impact of downtime on your operations. Well done!
Now the unsettling news. In the course of our work as business continuity consultants, we review many types of emergency preparedness, continuity of operations, and other contingency plans for a wide range of organizations. We invariably find that, while many plans include detailed preparedness tasks and checklists leading up to an event such as a hurricane or other major disruption, most are lacking in one very important aspect: plans for recovery and resumption of operations.
Though the reasons for this oversight are many, there is one recurring theme: organizations mistakenly believe that plans for recovery are highly dependent on the type of disaster or disruptive event that has occurred. In short, the recovery planning process seems overwhelming and even futile given the sheer number of unpredictable variables.
Recovery plans are not dependent on the type of disaster.
Now some good news! Highly effective recovery planning can and should be done in advance of events. Like all phases of planning, effective recovery planning follows a clear and simple methodology that focuses on identifying and prioritizing critical action items necessary to resume all aspects of your organization’s operations, finances, technology, facilities, and communications.
In fact, lessons learned from most disaster recovery efforts tell a predictable story: without effective advance planning, trying to recover and resume normal operations in the stressful aftermath of a disaster or major disruption is among the most challenging endeavors most organizations will ever face. So much so that the statistics are sobering: many businesses and organization take years to restore the levels of service and success they worked so hard to create before experiencing the disruptive event. Many never do fully recover, and a tragic number of organizations fail completely or go out of business.
RESOLVE TODAY: Review your organization’s plans for recovering from a disaster or major disruption.
- Do you and all your department managers know exactly what they’ll need to do, what resources they’ll need by when, and what actions are most critical to resuming services in the aftermath of a disruptive event?
- Do you have detailed checklists to follow so you’re not trying to make these decisions in the high stress environment of disaster recovery?
If you need help, we offer a complimentary consultation. We can also guide you to resources that can help you develop clear and robust recovery plans so your organization not only survives, but continues to thrive in the aftermath of a disaster or major disruption.
As the first month of 2013 draws to a close, the resolutions we were so excited to start just a few weeks ago are already losing some momentum. That’s the nature of most resolutions — only a small number actually last and have meaningful impact.
One resolution that will have both immediate and lasting impact on your organization in 2013 and beyond is a statement and commitment: Resolve to be Resilient. It starts with the mental resolve to get yourself and your organization ready for any disruption – small or large – that could impact normal operations and damage your brand and standing in the marketplace. It ends with a plan that is flexible and documented, understood by key employees and stakeholders, and maintained through regular updates, training, and testing to ensure it remains relevant in the changing landscape of any organization. In the middle of this resolution is a learning process — learning about the vulnerabilities of your organization, the downtime tolerances and recovery priorities of your key business functions, and the needs and requirements of your customers, stakeholders, and employees to maintain organizational resiliency.
If you are ready to Resolve to be Resilient this year, start your learning process by joining us for a Lunch and Learn event on Tuesday, February 5th in Columbia, or Wednesday, February 6th in Charleston. Our host, Immedion, will feed you with a great lunch while our expert speakers provide actionable information to start your path towards resiliency in 2013. For more details and to register, please visit the web registration page for Columbia or Charleston.
Don’t let another year go by without addressing the vulnerabilities to your organization. Resolve to be Resilient this year.
Welcome to our new website! We have spent a lot of time recently improving the content and design of our site to better describe our services and how they can help any business or organization prepare for the unexpected. We are passionate about Business Continuity and protecting businesses and organizations against all types of downtime. If you have a question that you can’t find a good answer to on our new website, please let us know. We’ll make sure to get you an answer and add your question to our FAQ page.
This blog will contain regular posts with information, news, trends, and tips on protecting businesses and organizations from all types of threats here in the Lowcountry. Technology, People, Facilities, Communications, Supply Chain and other topics will be presented to cover the broad range of disciplines that fall within Business Continuity. If you have an idea for a topic please let us know.
Thanks for visiting and please check back with us regularly. You may also follow us on Twitter @CharlestonBCP. In the meantime please let us know if we can answer questions or help prepare your business or organization for the unexpected.
Don’t Let the Predictions Change your Preparations!
As we approach the beginning of another Hurricane Season on June 1, we start to hear a lot of predictions. Will it be an average year, below average, or above average? How many storms are we likely to see? While these are interesting questions, we need to guard against getting caught up in these news headlines. One only has to think back twenty years to 1992, a year that was predicted as “below average” and indeed only saw 6 named storms. Unfortunately for Southern Florida, the first named storm in this “below average” year was Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that was the costliest hurricane in US history at the time.
The lesson that we should take from that 1992 hurricane season is simple: don’t let the predictions change your preparations! Hurricane Andrew taught us to always be on our guard during hurricane season, no matter what the predictions say. The good news is that planning for hurricanes is one of the simplest threats to address in your business continuity plan. There is a predictable season for these storms and there are generally good forecasts available to announce a storm’s arrival with plenty of time to put plans into action.
The time to update or begin your hurricane plan is now, before the season begins. Some of the issues that need to be addressed in your plan may take time to investigate and resolve, so give yourself plenty of time and start now. Here are a few items to consider to get started:
Employees – get everyone’s emergency contact info, local and out-of-state, and ask each employee where they plan to go during an evacuation. Help them start planning for their families and homes.
Customers – ask them about their expectations from your business before, during, and after a hurricane so you can address these issues and plan to meet their needs
Building – identify who is responsible for securing and boarding up your building and when the building will be shut down and re-opened following an evacuation
Go Kits – ask all employees to mark the items in their offices that are critical to performing their job duties, so others can pack up these items if they are not present during an evacuation
Policies – determine how you will pay employees during office closures due to storms (PTO, sick, vacation, or special “emergency” pay?)
Alternate Site – identify an alternate location to conduct business if you can’t return to your primary location, and make sure your employees are willing and able to work from that alternate location
Insurance – make sure your current policy covers flood damage to your contents, has business income and additional expense coverage, and covers the current replacement value of your assets
Technology – determine how phones will be forwarded, how emails will be received, and how important files and systems will be accessed remotely during an evacuation and long-term recovery at another location
These are just a few of the items to consider to get started. Remember the golden rule to business continuity planning: the best plan is the one with the most options. Make sure you have multiple contact phone numbers, multiple alternate locations to work from, multiple copies of critical data and documents, multiple people cross-trained to perform critical functions, and so on. In doing so you will not only develop a good hurricane plan for your business, but you will build the foundation for a good business continuity plan for all other threats to your business.
Remember, don’t let the predictions change your preparations and get ready for hurricane season now. Feel free to contact us with questions or if you need help starting your plan.