IT Business Continuity After a Gulf Coast Hurricane

A Gulf Coast hurricane, for lack of a more elegant phrase, is not fun. The combination of intense wind damage, storm surges, and rain are infamous for knocking out power and flooding homes and businesses.

Residents of the Gulf Coast understand that hurricanes are not a question of if, but when.

IT business continuity refers to the policies and technologies a business has in place to ensure semi-normal to normal business operations after a disaster. While disaster recovery focuses on the retention and restoration of data, business continuity is critical to keeping the organization functional while DR efforts are being coordinated.

Step 1: Communications

The first step in your IT business continuity plan should always be to establish the safety of your staff. Establish communications between key recovery personnel. An article about IT business continuity by the FFIEC says that, during Hurricane Katrina, “Communications outages made it difficult to locate missing personnel.” During major hurricanes of the past, like Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Katrina, many employees were limited to communicating because of lost cellphone connection and loss of power to landlines. You might even want to consider a communication contingency plan between key personnel with:

  • Two-way radios
  • Satellite telephones
  • Personal data assistant (PDAs)

You should also have a mass communication method to reach your other employees quickly. You can institute a system of emergency phone call/text alerts to keep every employee informed about updates. You can also set up a specific website or telephone number dedicated exclusively to allowing your employees to find updates on the work status.

Step 2: Basic Necessities

Before focusing on the business aspect of your IT business continuity, focus on the human aspect. Natural disasters in particular can take their toll on your employees and their families. Ensure that their basic necessities are met before asking them to start recovering the business. An article on even mentions, “Recognize that meeting some basic “comfort” needs can be an incentive for employees to come to work, e.g., air conditioning provided by a generator; food; water – all things they may not have at home.”

Step 3: Supplies and Power

Every business is different, but most businesses rely on power to serve their customers. The main office needs power from the power grid or through an on-premise generator. Make contingency plans for situations with and without power and supplies.

Step 4: Temporary/Alternative Facilities

If you suspect that recovery will take longer than expected, your IT business continuity plan might rely on using a temporary or alternative facility. Can you support your employees if they complete duties via telework? Are your applications and data available in the cloud for them to serve customers? With the right resources in place, you could plan to use an alternative facility to meet your RPO’s if a natural disaster floods or badly damages your original workspace.

Step 5: Damage Assessment

Gulf Coast hurricanes are hit or miss: either they pass with minimal impact, or they make the news for their devastation. Each business needs to create metrics to assess a storm’s damage (or potential damage) to their network infrastructure. Especially in the aftermath of a major affective storm, begin your business’s recovery by conducting a thorough damage assessment.

Step 6: Recovery from Backup/Secondary Site

Ideally, you have a secondary site or offsite backup to recover your data. Your plan may or may not have included bare metal recovery or sub-15 minute RPO’s, but your business needs an offsite a backup/DR site to ensure the safety of your data. In the aftermath of a Gulf Coast hurricane, any data you keep onsite within the walls of your business is subject to the same conditions as your primary data site. Successful IT business continuity begins when you can recover your data from your secondary site.

Step 7: Titrate Back to Normal Operations

After a major hurricane, returning to normal operations can be daunting. Consider letting your employees work from home via telework, if possible. Transportation throughout the city might be limited, or employees might need to take care of their families. Be flexible with work arrangements in the immediate aftermath of a major affective hurricane, and design a working contingency plan that allows your business to continue to run while flexing to the needs of your employees.

Get Started With IT Business Continuity Planning

Hurricane season is never fun (mild understatement, much?), but you can prepare your business for the worst, even if the worst never happens. Download our whitepaper, Beyond Disaster Recovery: Why Your Backup Plan Won’t Work, or contact Centre Technologies directly to learn more about our solution for enterprise business continuity planning.