Severe Weather and Disaster Prevention IT Checklist
February 19, 2016
How do I prepare my business computer systems for severe weather or other emergency situations?
This is a great question and the need to prepare has been driven home in recent years by events such as hurricane Katrina and Sandy, the power outages in the Northeast US, and many others. Every year there are weather or infrastructure issues that affect many businesses and individuals; and you never want to lose power as either. Fortunately, our systems can be designed to withstand quite a bit without causing a catastrophic failure.
Real Life Disaster
To set the stage for what I’m talking about, I think it is best to tell a story.
“One time, we had a client who had a hosted web application. We got an alert that the application had gone offline. After researching the issue, we contacted the host – who was on a different continent. We sat on hold for several hours trying to reach them by phone, because their support site was unavailable too. When we finally reached a frazzled technician, we could tell it was a bad day because there was a lot of yelling and noise in the background. The technician apologized and said they had taken a lightning strike directly to their data center and were trying to recover and get things back online as quickly as they could.”
I tell this not to pick on the hosting company, but just to say that bad things can happen to anyone, however well prepared they may be.
Events such as these have created a huge enterprise risk management and disaster recovery industry. Most businesses consider a written disaster recovery plan an essential part of their strategic planning.
In this article, I’m going to share several ways you can protect your business. First I’m going to address things from a big picture standpoint of how you can protect your assets on a day to day basis that also protects you from the bigger risks of disasters. Then, I’m going to give you some concrete steps that you can take to prevent damage on an as-needed basis, a la the “Bad Weather IT Checklist”. (If you see a witch riding by on a bicycle or are getting the last call to board the ark, click here to jump to the list)
“Most businesses consider a written disaster recovery plan an essential part of their strategic planning.”
Prevention and Preparation
The best way to prepare for a potential natural disaster is to spread your risks. There are a number of ways to do this. The primary ones we use are:
Battery Backup equipment
Not only does this help keep your computers running, it can help protect your valuable IT investments from damage by providing a buffer against wild power surges and swings (assuming you have a proper type of battery).
Redundant Internet Circuits and Firewalls
This can keep you online if a line is cut or equipment fails. It is good first step to ensure that you have Internet access at all times.
Hosting email is an inexpensive way to segment your IT infrastructure and provide the ability to keep communication flowing in the event of a disaster, or even a long power outage. If you opt not to host your email there are other services that provide mail sandbagging and other ways to make sure that mail doesn’t get lost if your server is unavailable.
Sometimes hosting a software application outside the building is a quick and easy way to get some redundancy into your IT infrastructure. If you go this route, be sure to back up a copy of your data locally in the even that your host has an issue.
This is an increasingly affordable option to enable a mobile and flexible workforce with higher levels of redundancy than most small to mid-size business computing infrastructures. This gives you multiple recovery options and day to day flexibility.
We consider this a key part of any backup strategy. A backup is great, but if it is in the same building as your data, and that building is gone… Well, it doesn’t do you much good.
Backup Imaging with Cloud Recovery
Allows you to get your workstations and servers backup up and running quickly in the event of everything from a bad hard drive or virus to a fire gutting your building. This offers the fastest recovery time in the event of a disaster.
A backup to a USB drive may fail with little warning because they don’t offer the reporting features that dedicated backup storage provides. A backup to a dedicated device provides the ability to monitor the backup media to help ensure recoverability.
Plan your Recovery
Know where you are going to restore your data to. This may mean recovering to a temporary server either in the cloud or locally. In the event of a catastrophe, you may be purchasing new PCs and laptops and restoring data to them. Make sure you have an idea what this timing means for getting your business back up and running.
Test your Plan
Run a fire drill and test your backups on a scheduled basis to make sure that your data is actually recoverable. Also make sure you review what is being backed up. Don’t assume that just because you feel something is important, that your IT company is backing it up. You don’t want to find out the hard way that it was not protected.
This is just a brief overview of some of the day to day things we do to help protect client data. Most companies should be taking advantage of some of these options to minimize the effects of technology outages and disasters. We understand that everyone has unique IT budgets and objectives, so not every approach is right for every company. We pride ourselves on our ability to diagnose a company’s needs and develop custom plans.
The Doomsday Bad Weather IT Checklist
Ok, whether you have done any strategic preparation or not, if things are looking really bad there are some steps you can take. All of these are intended to be easy and help in the event of bad situation, but nothing can fully protect you from a true disaster if your number is up.
Raleigh’s 2014 #Snowpocalypse
Power Off Everything you Can:
Computers, monitors, printers, copiers, even your servers. If you can do without it for the duration of the threat, shut it off. This will increase the runtime of anything that may share a battery, lower fire risk if there is a breach of your building’s structural integrity. In a worst case scenario, I have seen that data can be recoverable from computers that have gotten wet with fresh water. The main reason for powering off the equipment is that it will prevent data corruption that can occur if power is repeatedly lost and restored during an event.
Do your Best to Control Temperature:
Under extreme conditions and power outages, periods of intense cold or heat are possible. Both are bad for computers and other electronics. Your servers and computers may be in a climate-controlled room when the power is on; but when it goes out, is your AC or heat still going to work? You may need to consider an air conditioning source with auxiliary power to keep your equipment cool, but not too cold.
Make Sure the Valuables are in a Safe Place:
- Computers are tree dwellers, like monkeys or butterflies. They really don’t like rolling around in the dust anyway, but if you are in an area with flood potential, do your silicon friends a favor and help them off the ground before the waves roll in.
- Even though it’s not technically weather – if your area is in risk of an earthquake (but who can predict those), make sure your equipment is at a low risk of suffering a fall or being crushed by something else’s fall.
Take it With you! (a Copy of your Data That is)
Grab a thumb drive or portable hard drive and take a copy of your critical data with you. It may be too late to implement a backup imaging and cloud recovery strategy, but if you have your accounting data and customer list, it is better than nothing.
Finally, we hope you won’t have to suffer a major catastrophe, but if you are sitting around in the dark waiting for the lights to come back on and worried about whether you could have done more to protect your business, please contact us for a thorough review. We’d be happy to discuss your options and help you in any way we can.
Gray Anthony, Software Engineer