What’s Your 2020 Hurricane Disaster Recovery Plan?
In August, Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf Coast as one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the state of Louisiana.
Hurricanes aren’t going away. In fact, they’re getting worse. Data from the last decade shows that hurricanes have been growing in intensity and becoming more destructive.
But unlike most disasters, hurricanes are more predictable. You generally know they’re coming. Both the short-term forecasts and seasonal trends allow businesses to prepare ahead of time. So if your business is located along the coast, having a hurricane disaster recovery plan is essential.
What is a hurricane disaster recovery plan?
A hurricane disaster recovery plan is a documented set of business procedures for responding to a hurricane. Much like a traditional disaster recovery plan, the plan can include protocols for both before, during and after a hurricane or severe weather event, including:
- Preventative steps to anticipate and mitigate the impact of a hurricane
- Emergency response procedures to ensure safety during the event
- Immediate steps to restore critical business systems and operations
- Long-term procedures for full recovery
Below, we provide some examples of the steps that should go in each of these categories.
Why do you need one?
More precisely: hurricanes are among the most destructive natural disasters in the United States. In addition to the danger to people, hurricanes pose a serious threat to businesses.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that repairing damage from hurricanes costs $28 billion a year in the United States. Nearly half of U.S. economic productivity is vulnerable to hurricane damage.
But it’s not just the costs of damage that businesses need to worry about. When hurricanes cause a big enough disruption to operations, some companies never recover.
Forced out of business
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says that 40% to 60% of businesses never reopen their doors after a disaster such as a hurricane.
The key factor that determines businesses’ chances of survival is how quickly they respond. If operations can’t be restored quickly enough, it could spell doom for the business in the long term.
FEMA found that 90% of smaller companies fail within a year if they’re unable to resume operations within 5 days after a disaster. Every second counts.
That’s where a hurricane disaster recovery plan can make a huge difference. By being prepared for a disaster, and knowing exactly how to respond – rather than figuring it out on the fly – businesses are able to recover far more quickly.
How hurricanes hurt
The reason why hurricanes get the biggest headlines (vs. more frequent IT disasters, like data loss) is that they’re shocking. The destruction is eye-popping and frightening. But that physical damage is just one of several ways that a hurricane can disrupt your business.
In some ways, hurricanes encapsulate all the different disasters that can threaten your business:
- Wind damage
- Staff shortages
- Server / infrastructure damage
- Electricity & utility outages
- Data loss from damaged hardware
- Transportation disruptions
- Restricted building access
Each of these outcomes affects your operations in different ways. For example, perhaps the hurricane largely spared your business – but since everyone evacuated prior to the storm, you’re short-staffed.
Or, let’s say your office building is condemned due to damage. Your IT infrastructure is actually fine inside, if only somebody could get inside to manage it and enable remote workers to access the network. But since the building is condemned, nobody is allowed to enter.
Are there workarounds? Sure, there might be. But these examples illustrate the different ways that businesses need to prepare for the impact of a hurricane. It’s not just the physical destruction you need to worry about.
Forecasting the 2020 hurricane season
Again, one “nice” thing about hurricanes is that you know approximately what time of year they happen. And when one is on the way, you usually have a few days’ warning.
Your hurricane disaster recovery plan should acknowledge those “knowns” as part of the planning. For example, here’s what we know about the 2020 hurricane season(s):
- Season / timing: The Atlantic & Central Pacific Hurricane seasons are from June 1 to November 30, when ocean temperatures are at their warmest. While this is a relatively large window, it allows businesses to prepare based on the months that hurricanes are mostly likely to occur.
- Predicted activity: Forecasting technology can somewhat reliably predict how bad a hurricane season will be, prior to the start of the season. In May, for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that the 2020 hurricane season would be “above-average,” with 6-10 hurricanes, of which 3-6 would be Category 3 or higher. While these forecasts aren’t exact, they can provide a general “heads up” for planning purposes.
Preventative planning: building a hurricane disaster recovery plan
A crucial component of any hurricane disaster recovery plan is the preventative planning. No, you can’t stop a hurricane. But you can prevent it from destroying your business.
Have you noticed how stores board up their windows before a big storm comes? That’s exactly what you need to do for your business – but not just the windows. You need to protect every aspect of your business.
- Build in redundancy for critical business systems & operations, so that the company can continue operating even if the primary location is destroyed or inaccessible.
- Enable employees to access company networks, data and systems remotely via the cloud or offsite datacenter.
- Have a Plan B for quickly relocating the business or allowing operations to be decentralized.
- Create plans that ensure employee safety – i.e. guidelines for evacuations, protocols for essential workers who cannot evacuate, guidance for shelters, etc.
- Strengthen protection for physical assets and equipment – i.e. boarding windows, installing flood detectors, fire alarms, fire suppression systems for server rooms, etc.
- Communication plans that ensure everyone can stay connected, especially if primary lines of communication are unavailable.
When disaster strikes, the safety of your employees is paramount. Your disaster recovery plan should outline the steps that must be taken during a hurricane to reduce the risk of harm and help essential staff know what to do.
Consider a hospital emergency room in which essential medical staff must remain on site through a hurricane, caring for patients and providing shelter for others who could not evacuate. What happens if the storm destroys part of the hospital? What protocols should be followed? Where do personnel direct their resources?
All of this should be outlined in the DRP, along with the names and contact information of the recovery teams who will help to ensure these steps are properly carried out.
Restoring critical systems & operations
The hurricane disaster recovery plan must dictate how the business will restore its most vital systems and operations after a destructive storm.
Every possible disaster scenario should be identified, along with the steps for restoration. Ideally, your business continuity plan (BCP) will already identify these scenarios as part of the risk assessment. Create protocols that make it clear who will restore critical operations and how.
What might need to be restored first?
- Network access
- Data backups
- Servers or other damaged hardware
- Production operations
- Customer-facing systems
A Business Impact Analysis (as part of your BCP or DRP) can help you to determine which of these systems are most critical for the business to survive.
Leave nothing to guesswork. Develop clear flow charts and instructions that guide recovery teams through every scenario.
Following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, nearly 20% of affected businesses took a year or longer to reopen their doors. (And unfortunately, many never did.) After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, roughly 39% of affected businesses had recovered 10 months later. And by the 2 year mark, that number increased to only 66%.
This figure illustrates the lasting impact of hurricanes. Even when a full recovery is possible, it can take months or years for businesses that are hit hardest.
Even if your business is quick to restore critical systems, the full, long-term recovery is still essential. A hurricane DRP must outline how the business can fully restore operations back to normal, as they were prior to the hurricane.
Examples of fully recovery:
- Repairs / rebuilding of physical structures
- Replacement of IT hardware and equipment
- Permanent relocation of the business
- Return to full workforce levels
The role of data backup
Data backup plays a fundamental role in any disaster recovery plan. Even if a business is not completely destroyed by a hurricane, a mass loss of data would be just as disastrous.
For example, if a server room is flooded, or an electrical surge fries your file storage devices, it would likely cause a massive disruption to your operations.
This underscores the importance of using a robust data backup and disaster recovery system – even at the smallest businesses. Today’s BCDR solutions from Datto make it easy to capture all your data, every few minutes if necessary, and store those backups in multiple locations for fast, dependable recovery.
Keep in mind that data backup is just one piece of the overall disaster recovery picture. Planning for a hurricane requires a 360-degree approach that takes all aspects of your business into consideration.
Learn more and make sure your business has a hurricane disaster recovery plan today!
Take a closer look at Datto’s disaster recovery solutions for protection against hurricanes, ransomware and other disasters. Request a free demo or contact our business continuity experts at Invenio IT. Call (646) 395-1170 or email success@invenioIT.com.