10 Things You Can Do Today To Be Ready if Disaster Strikes

This post was originally posted on GovDataDownload.com.

It seems like a week doesn’t go by without news of a catastrophic storm somewhere in the U.S. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods…severe weather has become the norm rather than the exception. The damage and devastation these severe weather events bring is obviously a negative consequence; however, the upside is that we can learn from previous storms to prepare ourselves for what the future might bring. From an IT standpoint, lessons learned from data recovery and system restoration following severe weather events helps inform business continuity and disaster recovery (DR) strategies to help us prepare for potential future disasters.

I had first-hand experience with this when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and a sizeable portion of the eastern seaboard in 2012. In New York City, everything below 30th Street had no power. Buildings and the subway tunnels were flooded and widespread power outages occurred. In many buildings, backup generators were located in the basement, meaning that flooding had wiped them out, making backup power impossible. People were unable to report to work because of the subway flooding, and even those who were set up to work from home were unable to because their homes were damaged or destroyed.

In terms of IT systems, the storm had a devastating impact. Email went down, as did many cell towers, making it impossible for many to use mobile phones or devices—assuming they were able to charge these devices with the widespread power outages. Companies were unable to communicate with employees. Computer systems went down at companies across New York City, and IT teams were, in many cases, unable to get to DR sites. For some companies, even once IT staff were able to make it to DR sites,  they realized that due to poor naming conventions and lack of best practices in terms of data backup, they were unable to find systems to get them back online.

Obviously, the city eventually recovered from Hurricane Sandy and businesses returned to regular operations, but several IT lessons were learned in the process. As a result of these lessons learned, here are 10 things I recommend that every company do now to ensure they’re ready if disaster strikes:

  1. Identify the business critical systems that must be up and running in the event of a disaster.
  2. Develop a DR plan, and test it at least twice a year to identify necessary modifications.
  3. Come up with a plan to bring critical systems back up in the event of a disaster.
  4. Put in place naming conventions for applications and govern the system on an ongoing basis to ensure consistency. An example would be naming conventions like “Timekeeping system” instead of unintelligible file names.
  5. Employ best practices in terms of IT strategy. Regardless of technology, you must follow best practices so when disaster hits, your systems are optimized and able to be brought back up and running as quickly as possible.
  6. Create run books for all critical environments including step-by-step instructions for restoring systems. Take into account that IT admins may not be able to make it to the DR site, so instructions should be detailed enough to allow someone less familiar with systems to perform restoration.
  7. Consider virtual automated systems that take the guesswork out of bringing up critical applications and automate complicated steps to recovery.
  8. Employ a VDI strategy if there’s not already one in place. In the event of a disaster, key staff will have the ability to work and collaborate from home or other offsite locations.
  9. Identify sites workers can report to in the event that a disaster makes reaching or working from the primary work site impossible.
  10. Check with your largest vendors to see what processes are in place to streamline the procurement system in the event that you have to obtain restoration equipment quickly and normal processes cannot be followed. Vendors can be proactive as well, compiling a list of resources like help desk numbers and other information that would be helpful in the event of a disaster, and maintaining these on an ongoing basis to make sure that information is ready and up-to-date if needed. 

As we know from enduring Hurricane Sandy and other severe weather events, they can strike at any time and wreak havoc on IT systems. There’s no time like the present to put into place systems and procedures for data recovery in the event of a future disaster.

Douglas Ross, District Manager, Government & Education Sales, NetApp