Hurricane Harvey and the resulting massive flooding in the Houston area, as well as Hurricane Irma's destruction across Florida, have prompted many American business owners to think about disaster recovery and reflect upon just how vulnerable their businesses might be to disaster.
Whether it's a natural disaster or unforeseen events at home or abroad that could disrupt their business operations, every business owner needs to hope for the best while planning for the worst.
One of the most important aspects of disaster planning is making sure your business data is protected and recoverable. Buildings can be rebuilt and insurance can cover major financial losses, but, for many small businesses, your business data is irreplaceable.
For example, what happens to your business if your company headquarters or storefront location gets flooded, burned down, or struck by a tornado tomorrow? Is all of your crucial business data stored on a local server in a basement that could get flooded, or do you have your data backed up in a way that is easy to recover? If you cannot get your systems back up and running within a few days or weeks, your business might go bankrupt and have to shut down.
Back up Your Data
Adnan Raja, Vice President of Marketing for Atlantic.Net, a customized hosting solutions provider, says that small business owners should have a disaster recovery plan ready for a variety of contingencies, including natural disaster, cybersecurity threat, or other significant loss.
“If all of your business's data is stored with a cloud service provider, have autonomous and complete backups of that data somewhere else.”
- Adnan Raja
Vice President of Marketing for Atlantic.Net
“This can be done by paying either a third-party vendor to backup your data or your staff to create the backups internally. These backups and the corresponding recovery plan should be tested thoroughly in disaster simulation exercises. Also be wary of 'configuration drift.' Backups get configured properly once, but when new data or software gets added, the backup setup may not get adjusted, and the resulting backup is useless when the time comes and you actually need it."
Raja also says that disaster recovery planning is not just about high-tech systems — it should also include seemingly simple things like your business phones. “Make sure to consider all of your business's systems when creating these plans. For instance, you may forget about your VOIP phone system and be surprised after a disaster when none of your clients are able to call you. If major phone companies can have issues with tollfree calling in 2017, anything can happen."
Prepare Your People
In addition to the technology aspects of disaster recovery planning, business owners also need to plan ahead for the human impacts of a disaster.
Edward Colson is the owner of Ready Northwest in Beaverton, Oregon, an emergency management provider for small- to mid-sized businesses and organizations.
“During an event like Harvey or Irma, one of the biggest things that business owners need is to know the whereabouts and safety of their employees.”
- Edward Colson
Owner of Ready Northwest
“Harvey and Irma showed that massive evacuations happened that brought people and their families outside of their community with no way of getting back to where they were evacuated from. As the recovery process begins, a business might be down a certain number of employees due to being evacuated, or might have lost critical employees either through injury or evacuation," Colson says. "As part of your disaster recovery plan, it is important to identify critical employees and cross-train staff as needed, in case a disaster necessitates an evacuation."
The Government Can Help
When a natural disaster strikes, FEMA is the government agency that often gets the most public attention — but did you know that the Small Business Administration (SBA) also has disaster planning and disaster recovery resources available for business owners?
Andrea Roebker, Regional Communications Director for Region V of the U.S. Small Business Administration, says that, at the SBA, “as a federal agency, we not only support disaster loans for small business owners and other people affected by disasters, but also have several tools available to access for preparation."
Roebker recommends that business owners check out the free SBA guide to help your business prepare for emergencies. Also, if your business is affected by a disaster, there are a variety of federal resources from FEMA, the SBA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help your business get financial assistance, such as low-interest loans for damaged and destroyed business assets.
Disaster recovery planning is not most business owners' idea of a fun time — people get into business to build something, not to contemplate destruction — but it's a necessary part of running your business. With the right disaster planning tools and resources, your business can be prepared for the worst, and can be resilient in recovery.