It might not feel like it, but June is right around the corner. For those of us in New Jersey and the rest of the East Coast, we know this as the first official day of hurricane season. And no matter what industry or sector your business might be in, maintaining business continuity and keeping your business’s network alive and running through the challenges of a major hurricane are essential to your organization’s long-term health and safety.
At Abacus, we’ve found that businesses that prepare their IT network for hurricanes, among other natural disasters, and understand the plans and steps to take when the worst hurricanes occur are those that can pick up and thrive again the next day. In this article, we discuss how hurricanes can massively disrupt your IT network and the best ways to protect your data through the storm.
What Could Go Wrong?
According to weather forecasts for 2020, hurricane season this year is going to be pretty rough. Experts at Colorado State University have predicted an above-average number of tropical storms, with more damage estimated to occur than ever before due to climate change. Warmer oceans and higher sea levels allow for stronger and longer hurricanes, meaning businesses should expect the worst.
There are 16 named storms on the way this season, with 8 predicted to reach hurricane level and 4 predicted to reach major strength. With a 95% chance of at least one major hurricane making landfall this year, businesses need to be prepared.
But what exactly could go wrong with your IT network during a hurricane? In recent years, Hurricane Irma and Harvey ended up costing Americans $100 billion and $190 billion respectively, with disruption to business being a major factor in the costs.
For business owners who might not have experienced it before, here are the main dangers faced by business networks during hurricane season:
- Equipment Failure: Substantial flooding (even in places that have never experienced flooding) can occur, meaning any equipment that is stored on the ground or close to the ground is immediately at risk. There is also the risk of losing power for days and even weeks at a time, so cloud backups of your network and data are absolutely essential.
- Mandatory Evacuation: Depending on the severity of the hurricane, your team might be unable to physically access your data center for an extended period of time. Having a way to remotely access sensitive data is essential, and keeping that sensitive data secure while remotely accessible is a tough balance.
- Lack of Time: Many businesses make the mistake of not preparing until the hurricane is on the way, but this leaves you desperately short on time. Network disaster preparedness requires planning and testing to ensure that everything is working the way it needs to be; without this, you could be setting your business continuity plan up for failure.
How To Prepare A Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan
Natural disasters like hurricanes can cause physical damage to assets, which in turn can lead to data corruption or loss. Not to mention, power outages and other uncontrollable factors can cause downtime in your computer network, disrupting your operations.
In a previous article, we discussed the difference between a business continuity plan and a disaster recovery plan, and why it’s important to have both. Though their functions overlap, these documents are separate and provide specific instructions in restoring operations and have their own distinct role to play in ensuring business continuity.
Tips for Creating a Business Continuity Plan
- Define your restoration objectives. At what point will you consider your systems functional and operational?
- Perform an impact analysis to understand the cost of repairing, restoring, or replacing both hardware and software.
- Prepare a response protocol specifically for hurricanes. Different business interruptions will require varying responses.
- Don’t forget to assign roles and responsibilities, including a team or an individual responsible for declaring a disaster and enacting the BCP.
Tips for Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan
Compared to business continuity, disaster recovery is more focused on IT assets, given that most business operations are now dependent on technology to function.
Here’s how you can protect your data and your equipment amidst natural disasters:
Keeping Your Data Safe Through Hurricane Season: What To Do
1) Perform An Asset Inventory
The first step to keeping your data and computer network operational is knowing exactly what needs to be protected. Start your BCDR planning by performing an inventory of your existing assets, both online and offline, virtual and on-site. The asset inventory should include:
- All hardware you are using including servers, endpoint devices (POS systems, laptops, phones, tablets), and internet of things devices (router, webcam, printers)
- All software including your operating system, installed business applications, and other client-based programs running on your endpoint devices
In the asset inventory, specify the physical components of hardware such as the model, version, and brand. For software versions, keep copies of the license, software update version, APIs, and other specific configurations you have made to your software.
If your data center or office gets flooded, you’ll know exactly what you’ll have to repair.
2) Replicate Your Assets
Asset replication in preparation for the season doesn’t have to be drastic. At the very least, ensure that you have replacement parts ready for on-site equipment. If you have servers and endpoint devices with limited manufacturer parts, aim to have at least a copy or two of these parts to spare for easy repair and replication.
Most importantly, think about your database and physical servers. If you’re in a particularly flood-prone area, make sure equipment is elevated to prevent water damage.
As for data, keep both online and offline back-ups available. BCDR solutions offered by business continuity company Datto are a great hands-off solution for both enterprise-level and small to medium businesses.
For instance, the Datto devices offer image-based backups, which replicates the OS and its existing settings, including everything from applications to your files, instead of using outdated files-based techniques. When dealing with interruptions caused by natural disasters, the last thing you’d want to do is worry about it on the spot: the Datto BCDR solutions can help you launch operations on any endpoint device, and pick up where you’ve left off.
3) Establish A Contingency Plan
In the event your state declares a mandatory evacuation, you will no longer have access to your office and your assets. Businesses in the law and healthcare industries, as well as enterprise-level organizations, should consider employing a Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) solution especially if hurricane season is known to cause constant interruptions.
DRaaS services can temporary secondary worksites which will allow your business to function normally, even if your main office is inaccessible. DRaaS can also allow you to store exact replicas of hardware, particularly servers, and perform restoration services on endpoint devices.
Otherwise, make sure to prepare a contingency plan that addresses work-from-home protocols or other out-of-office alternatives to ensure maximum efficiency and limit downtime and interruptions.
4) Test Your Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans
Dry runs of your business continuity and disaster recovery plans during normal circumstances are essential for ensuring that everything goes well when the hurricanes hit (or any other disaster takes place). Here are some essential aspects of testing your plans:
- Your network and IT infrastructure should have the software and systems in place to immediately switch to remote accessibility if needed
- Your team should have the plans in place with any necessary training to work without physical access to their workstations and the company data center
- Your security should be tested to ensure that any data stored on the cloud is absolutely secure
- Consider a virtual network for uninterrupted access to your database and other assets. Datto offers unique hands-off BCDR solutions called the SIRIS and ALTO, including virtualization, with specifications suitable for both growing and established businesses.
- The team and the network should be able to shift back to a normal working environment with little difficulty
5) Define What Counts As A Disaster
Not every disaster will be a hurricane. Your team should have a round-table discussion detailing anything that might count as a disaster, which can depend on a number of factors: the location or region of your business, the general workflow hierarchy of your team, and the level of readiness and preparedness your team has for potential disasters.
By defining what counts as a disaster — anything from natural events like a hurricane or a tornado, to the sudden and unexpected loss of a key employee — you leave little room for confusion with your organization as to when disaster recovery steps need to be enacted.
Hurricanes may be inevitable, but they don’t have to force your business to grind to a halt. Ensuring business continuity during hurricanes and other natural disasters can be straightforward with the right preparation. Rise above the competition and show your customers they can depend on you come rain or sunshine.