7 Strategies to Avoid Data Loss from Natural Disaster

October 11, 2022

9 min read

Tracy Rock

Director of Marketing @ Invenio IT
data loss from natural disaster

7 Strategies to Avoid Data Loss from Natural Disaster

by | Oct 11, 2022

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 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

Keep this in mind …

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.

Still, that doesn’t mean you should leave your systems at risk. Natural disasters can strike at any time, anywhere in the world. And it doesn’t have to be a headline-making disaster to wipe all your data. All it takes is a flooded server room or a fire to destroy everything. And if you don’t have adequate backups stored elsewhere, then your data is toast.

What are examples 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 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 and tornados 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 can you 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:

1) Back up your data

First and foremost, you need to be continually backing up your data. If a natural disaster destroys your systems, you’ll need a way to get that data back. Otherwise, your business could be dead in the water, as illustrated in the statistics above.

Routine backups ensure that you’ll be able to retrieve all your critical files after a major data-loss event. This is important not just for protection against natural disasters, but also all the other threats to your data.

But simply having a backup is just the first step. How and where you store those backups is also extremely important when it comes to natural disasters. This brings us to the next important tip …

2) Replicate backups to the cloud

On-site backups are a good start, but they’re useless if a storm destroys your whole building. If all your backups are stored locally, then you’re leaving all your eggs in one basket.

This is why it’s important to replicate your backups to the cloud (often referred to as a hybrid backup), so that you can recover them anytime, anywhere. For most data-loss events, you will probably still restore files from your local backups. But in the event that the local backups are compromised or inaccessible, the cloud backups provide a critical failsafe.

3) 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.

Why does this matter for natural disasters? Consider a disaster that has completely destroyed your on-site infrastructure. In this case, you’ll need more than a few recovered files to get back to business. You need everything. Virtualizing your backups in the cloud gives you near-instant access to all your protected systems, software and data. So you can maintain your critical operations while you rebuild. Also, with Datto, all changes made during virtualization are also backed up, ensuring a smoother overall recovery.

4) Set a shorter RPO

This is an important strategy for your disaster recovery planning. A shorter RPO (recovery point objective) means you’ll lose less data after a loss, because the recovery point won’t be as old. For example, if you set an RPO of 12 hours, this means that your most recent backup should never be more than 12 hours old. So in the event that you need to restore a backup, you would only lose up to 12 hours’ worth of changes since the last backup, at maximum.

Still, 12 hours of data is a lifetime in today’s world, especially for larger organizations. If a natural disaster (or any type of data loss) wipes out everything, you’re going to lose a lot of work, even if you have a working backup. This is why it’s important to set your RPO as low as possible, especially for your most critical data and systems. But keep in mind, this also means your backup systems need to be able to handle frequent backups. With newer BC/DR technology like the Datto SIRIS, you can back up your data around the clock – as often as every five minutes, if needed.

5) Protect physical infrastructure

Natural disasters are unique from other data-loss events in that they pose the element of physical destruction. So an important strategy to prevent data loss from some natural disasters is to deploy systems that safeguard your on-site infrastructure from physical damage.

For example, waterless fire suppression systems provide a critical layer of protection against fires, preventing your servers and other IT infrastructure from being scorched. Flood and moisture sensors are also recommended for server rooms, especially in lower levels of a building. In the event of sudden or unexpected flooding (or even a pipe burst), these sensors can alert your teams to take action at the first signs of a leak. And don’t forget about power outages. We mentioned above that these outages are among the most common cause of downtime globally. Backup generators and power surge suppression systems ensure that your operations can continue through these events and prevent electrical damage to your hardware.

6) 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 and/or business continuity plan. A good DR plan gives you insight into the types of disasters that pose the greatest risk for your organization, including natural disasters, malware, accidental data loss and so on. With a detailed risk assessment and impact analysis, you can customize and prioritize your disaster planning around each of these threats.

Without a DR plan, you are effectively leaving your disaster planning to guesswork.

7) Store geo-redundant cloud backups

We already mentioned the importance of keeping backups in the cloud. But that alone is not enough to protect your data from worst-case scenarios. For example, imagine a scenario in which your backups are stored at a data center just a few miles from your business. But then an earthquake strikes, causing damage to the entire region and making all your backups inaccessible.

To safeguard your business from a scenario like this, you should store your off-site backups in two or more geographically diverse locations. This ensures that you’ll still be able to recover your data, even if the natural disaster has affected your entire region.

Frequently asked questions about data loss from natural disasters

1) How can a natural disaster destroy our data?

A natural disaster can cause data loss by compromising the hardware where your data is stored. For example, a server could be destroyed by fire, flooding, earthquake or other types of disasters. Sudden electrical surges or outages caused by a storm could also lead to data corruption.

2) What’s the best way to prevent data loss from a disaster?

The most effective way to prevent data loss from a disaster is to create backups of your data, stored in multiple locations. If you store backups locally, they should also be replicated to the cloud for greater protection in case your on-site infrastructure is destroyed.

3) How many businesses close because of natural disasters?

According to FEMA, roughly 25% of businesses affected by disasters are forced to close permanently. In 2018, more than 37,500 businesses were shuttered permanently due to natural disasters, according to research by DatabaseUSA.com.

Conclusion: Don’t risk losing your data to Mother Nature!

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 success@invenioIT.com.

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