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7 Strategies to Avoid Data Loss from Natural Disaster

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Tracy Rock

Director of Marketing @ Invenio IT


Data Loss from Natural Disaster

All the big headlines go to ransomware these days, but there’s another threat that remains one of the top causes of data loss: natural disasters.

Rain, flooding, fire, earthquakes – the list of threats goes on and on. And when they strike, they pose a serious risk to your IT infrastructure, especially your data.

In this post, we take a closer look at how to avoid data loss from natural disaster.

Data loss from natural disaster: what the stats tell us

We already know that 90% of businesses experience downtime at some point, leading to losses in productivity and revenue. But how do natural disasters play a role in those statistics?

Here’s what we know …

Power outages cause 35% of unexpected downtime

You don’t need a Category 5 hurricane to lose access to your critical data. One survey found that power outages cause roughly 1 in 3 downtime events at businesses around the world. And when it happens, data loss is inevitable. In a sudden outage, workers often lose their work in progress. And in worse-case scenarios, hard drives can be corrupted in the process.

40-60% of small businesses never reopen after disaster

Natural disasters literally destroy businesses, and the smallest companies are the most vulnerable. According to FEMA, up to 60% of businesses never reopen their doors after a major disaster. And among those that survive, less than a third survive another two years before shutting down for good. The reasons are wide-ranging: too much data loss, too much downtime and even communication failure following the disaster.

90% of small companies fail within a year if they don’t do this one thing…

FEMA has also found that 9 out of 10 small businesses will close within one year if they don’t resume operations within five days after a natural disaster. This reveals how costly the downtime can be. The longer a business stays closed, the more the costs rack up—often exponentially.

Businesses that lose their IT for 9 days go bankrupt in a year

Another FEMA stat, highlighted by Forbes, shows how data loss and other IT disruptions can be the most destructive outcomes of a natural disaster. Businesses that “lost their information technology for nine days or more after a disaster” filed for bankruptcy within a year.

Only 1 in 4 small companies says they’re prepared for a major natural disaster

One year after Superstorm Sandy slammed the coasts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Wakefield Research conducted a survey of businesses in the impacted area. Shockingly, even after those businesses had witnessed first-hand what a natural disaster could do, only 22% of them said felt they were adequately prepared for another storm.

30% of surveyed businesses said they’d never recover data

In the same Wakefield study, roughly a third of respondents said they would “never be able to recover or recreate all of their important business data if it was lost” during a natural disaster. And among those that said they might be able to recover their files, most said it would take 16 days. 16 days of data loss might be survivable for your average mom-and-pop store. But for small businesses within industries like manufacturing, logistics and online retail, 16 days without data can mean the end.

43% of companies go out of business after a major data loss

A study conducted by Gartner Group found that 43% of businesses that experienced a “major” data loss from natural events and other disasters went out of business for good. Another 51% went belly up within two years. If you’re doing the math, your jaw should be on the floor — because this translates into only a 6% survival rate (!!) for businesses that lose their critical data.

Natural disasters aren’t the biggest cause of data loss

While natural disasters pose a persistent and destructive threat to your data, they are not the top cause of data loss. In one survey, only 5% of businesses said that natural disasters were the top cause of data loss at their organizations within the previous year. That should come as no surprise to IT folks. After all, it’s not every day that a hurricane or tornado destroys your infrastructure. But it is every day that files get accidentally deleted or compromised by things like malware and hardware failure.

What kinds of natural disasters?

While we don’t have specific data on which natural disasters cause the most data loss, we know that these events can take many forms.

It’s not just the “big” ones like hurricanes that businesses need to be concerned about. From fires to ordinary rainstorms, even the “smallest” natural disasters can quickly snowball into a catastrophic data loss.

Here are some of the disasters you need to plan for:

  • Fire: Roughly 3% of structural fires occur at commercial properties, causing more than half a billion dollars in damage, according to 2015 stats from the National Fire Protection Association. These fires occur both during business hours and overnight and are most often caused by electrical failure or malfunction. And remember: it’s not just the fire you need to worry about. Smoke can be destructive on IT infrastructure too. Additionally, the water from sprinkler systems and fire hoses is often what causes the most damage.
  • Flooding: When your servers get flooded, your on-premises data is toast. Flooding can occur virtually anywhere, anytime. Torrential downpours and other storms are of course the biggest dangers when it comes to true natural disasters. But keep in mind disastrous flooding can also occur inside a building due to mechanical failure, like bursting water pipes and leaks. Such leaks often lead to electrical problems and outages, which we’ve already established are key culprits for data loss, as well as fires.
  • Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards & severe storms: Some areas are more prone to certain types of storms than others. But no matter where your building is located, you need to prepare for the worst. All it takes is one unexpected storm to flood your office and destroy everything (including your data).
  • Earthquakes: While fault lines are most active on the West coast, it can’t hurt to be prepared no matter where you’re located. When it comes to your data, the preparation here is basically no different than planning for a storm: Do you have a backup plan if your server’s hard drives are destroyed in a quake?
  • “Acts of God”: This is primarily an insurance term, but it underscores the idea that freak disasters can take many forms and strike when you least expect it. If you don’t have a plan for keeping your data safe, or recovering it rapidly after a disaster, then you’re leaving the company at risk.

Climate change will make things worse

You can’t talk about natural disasters these days without considering the effects of climate change.

The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that extreme storms like hurricanes will only become more common as global temperatures continue to rise. Now more than ever, businesses must be prepared for a wide range of potential natural disasters and be able to rapidly resume operations after a disruptive event occurs.

How to prevent data loss from natural disaster

Okay, so you know the risks. What can you do about them?

While you can’t stop Mother Nature, you can make sure that your data is protected (and quickly accessible) no matter how devastating the disaster. Here’s how:

  • Back up data to the cloud: On-site backups are a good start, but they’re useless if a storm destroys your whole building. Replicate your backups to the cloud (often referred to as a hybrid backup), so that you can recover them anytime, anywhere.
  • Virtualize backups for faster access: BC/DR platforms from Datto store your backups as image-based files that can be booted as virtual machines. Even better, they can be virtualized in the cloud or from the on-site BDR appliance. That means you can spin up your backup in seconds, from anywhere, and continue to use your important applications and resume your critical operations. That’s huge when your on-site infrastructure has been destroyed.
  • Set a shorter RPO: A shorter RPO (recovery point objective) means you’ll lose less data after a loss, because the recovery point won’t be as old. But keep in mind, this also means your backup systems need to be able to handle frequent backups.
  • Protect physical infrastructure: You may be able to prevent data loss from some natural disasters by deploying systems that protect your on-site infrastructure. Waterless fire suppression systems, flood/moisture sensors, backup generators and power surge suppression systems are just a few examples of technologies that can minimize the risk of a destroyed IT room.
  • Create a disaster recovery plan. All of your preventative measures, data backup technologies, recovery objectives and protocols should be clearly outlined in a disaster recovery plan or business continuity plan.

Final words of wisdom

Natural disasters are a serious threat, and their potential for destruction is what gets all the attention in the news media. But don’t forget that other causes of data loss are much more common. On any given day, you run the risk of losing important files due to human error or malware. A good hybrid data backup system will ensure your data can be quickly retrieved, regardless of the disaster.

Learn more about your data backup options

Get more information on how your business can prevent data loss with smarter backup and disaster recovery solutions from Datto. Request a free demo today, or contact us at (646) 395-1170 or

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