An unblinking look at disaster recovery

Images from the terrible earthquake that recently hit China put disaster recovery into grave perspective

I recently received a message in my inbox reminding me of the importance of disaster recovery:

The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 -- setting the stage for heavy losses and damage. ... Yet, most real-world problems -- while potentially devastating -- are much less spectacular. Unforeseen problems, like unidentified software bugs, can cause big problems when servers shut down or decentralized software fails.

While I do agree that computer hiccups can be very disruptive, images from the terrible earthquake that recently hit China and those from the devastating cyclone that swept Myanmar put disaster recovery into grave perspective. However damaging computer glitches may be, nothing compares to the loss of human life incurred during natural disasters -- especially given how essential human ingenuity and resiliency is when attempting to recover from calamity.

This photo taken in the aftermath of the Myanmar cyclone says as much about the importance of bringing in the proper equipment after a disaster as it does about the human will to recover and rebuild when just about everything seems lost.

It's a lesson that should be kept in mind as our hurricane season approaches. Being prepared to replace damaged equipment and having a remote location from which to safely resume business are certainly important, but even the best-conceived recovery plan can prove ineffective if you don't have sufficiently skilled human resources to make it work.

To explore what could happen if disaster should leave key staff incapacitated or worse is a somewhat somber activity that many would rather not dwell on.

It's always painful to contemplate events that could cause suffering for friends and colleagues, but the sad reality is that recovery becomes more difficult, if at all possible, if a disaster decimates your employees.

I'll go out on a limb to say that protecting your company from the business impact of material losses -- damaged computers, for example, or even a destroyed building -- is relatively easy. Money is obviously an issue, but balancing the amount of dollars you can afford to invest versus the risk you want to avoid should be a no-brainer business decision.

By contrast, protecting your company from the loss of critical personnel has little to do with money. Even if you could afford to double up staff on key responsibilities, when calamity strikes there are no guarantees of survival for anybody.

Consider instead cross-training people at different branches, for example. Have your San Francisco manager and some of his/her staff swap duty with their New York colleagues for a day or two every six months. Ideally, the timing for those training sessions should be when you are testing your business resumption plan, but you may have a different take on how best to proceed with this strategy.

Are SMBs with one location sorely out of luck? Not necessarily. Finding a partner company willing to swap-train key people shouldn't be too difficult. Think of it as carpooling to fight the impact of disaster -- and a good opportunity to share technical insights and experience.

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Mario Apicella

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