With some meteorologists predicting Hurricane Irene could be the worst storm to hit the Northeast in 50 years, IT and business managers need to get some basics about disaster preparedness right.
By the time the storm makes landfall along the mid-Atlantic coast this weekend, forecasters expect it to pack powerful winds in excess of 100mph, posing a variety of "extreme" threats that include flooding, power outages and damaged water supply systems.
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It's likely that many workers will not be able to, or may not want to, report for work on Monday due to damage to their homes and concern for family members. That means companies will have to rely on remote employees using VPNs.
"Everyone assumes it'll be all hands on deck, but what's the first thing everyone's worried about? Their family and homes," Bill Peldzus, a vice president at the IT consultancy Glasshouse, said Thursday. "If I was in New York, I would have declared an emergency today."
Peldzus recommends six basic steps for preparedness.
- Make sure all company data is backed up off site
- Declare an emergency early to get a head start on working out kinks that will inevitably come
- Know what's going on with your staff from a professional and personal standpoint
- Focus on systems and workflows that pull in revenue
- Over-communicate with employees, customers and, for large corporations, stock holders about what you're doing
- Be prepared for long-term impacts even if you're not directly hit; power and communications may be out for a while.
"A hurricane is one of the few things companies can prepare for in advance. That affords companies an opportunity they don't typically have when there's a disaster," Peldzus said.
SMBs are the least prepared
While large companies have to be concerned with the details of disaster recovery plans, small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are at higher risk because of their general lack of preparedness.
"My biggest advice to SMBs is to have a very thoughtful conversation with the IT team about the possible scenarios that impact them," said David Chapa, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group.
Al Berman, executive director of the Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRI) in New York City, said that if companies focus on three things -- employee resources, network capacity and critical documents -- they'll come away from the hurricane in pretty good shape.
"One of the things we see when we get lots of water is destruction of documents, including their charter, the checking stuff and all the information they really need to do business," he said. "Even for large companies, make sure you've got all the documents you need -- both electronically and on paper -- out of there."
Berman also said businesses fail to realize that while people worry the Internet will go down during a storm, it's about having enough concurrent VPN sessions so that employees can work remotely.
"Everyone always worries that the Internet is going down. Well, transaction processing uses the least amount of resources on the Internet. While graphics and music uses the most," he said. "It won't be the Internet that fails but the VPN."