Preparing for Business Disasters

IT Business
22 Comments

In the IT field we work tirelessly to prepare our clients for the eventual technological disaster, be it tape failure, disk failure, network device failure or outright infrastructure collapse. Very little time, by comparison, is spent on preparing the business for continuity during and after disaster. Continuity is how your business reacts, responds and communicates during the disaster and the expected level of service you provide immediately after the inevidable interruption to your business occurs. This post gives you a few hints on how to prepare for under $150 in under an hour.

 

Are you Evacuating?

Strm5_strike_720x486I am in the infrastructure business. Ironically, the question I am forced to answer too many times is why we do not have any infrastructure in Florida. Even more ironically, it is the Floridians with the attention span of a fruit fly that ask that question. Let me answer it myself and let me provide you with the answer my coleague just gave me. OWN does not have any infrastructure in Florida because of the image to the right.

My friend Rich gave me this colorful response:

richwalkup says:

son of a damn weather – wouldn’t be so bad if the infrastructure down here wasn’t put together by toothpicks, legos, and dental floss

Let me preface the article by saying that no matter where you live your infrastructure is similar to the above. If you happen to be an optimist let me assure you (having gone through four hurricanes) that no infrastructure is prepared for a massive migration of millions of people.

The $150 business continuity

Regardless of the extent of the disaster, your clients will expect you to be able to serve them. Hungry people will show up in front of a McDonalds that has no power expecting a Big Mac. Manufacturing plant you provide IT services for will expect you to be able to address and assess their situation no matter the circumstances..

The key to business continuity is communication.

People will forgive you for many things. People will not forgive you for ignoring them. So if you only have $150 and an hour make sure you can have a steady communications channel between you and your client base. It is not too late to prepare for this even if you have an hour to go to the impending doom.

The shopping list:

Disaster Cell Phone

Skype Dialin

Analog Phone

Disaster Blog

Here is a quick breakdown of what all of these will help you do and how.

 

Disaster Cell Phone

First of all keep in mind that the disaster cell phone is something you purchase as a failover, not as a primary line of communications with your client base during and after a disaster. You can purchase a prepaid cell phone anywhere and get 1000 minutes (expire every year) for $100. I personally use Tmobile because of the network reliability I have come to enjoy in my travels. Nearly every carrier has a prepaid offering you can take advantage of.

Pro: Cheap, mobile, effective, low footprint (easy to grab and go)

Con: Will likely not do you any good in the area that suffered from disaster because cell towers are the first to go.

 

Skype Dialin

Skype dialin is your mobile voicemail. If you happen to get your telco services from a local CLEC that also happens to be in the same geographical area you are the disaster effect is twofold – they will either be destroyed along with you or will suffer extreme delays and outages due to call volume. Skype Dialin will run you $30 a year for a phone number and voicemail that you can check from anywhere. You will not have to deal with voice messages and SMS being delayed hours or days when you are supposed to be responding in realtime.

Pro: Cheap, effective, virtual.

Con: Requires network connectivity or access to a payphone.

 

Analog Phone

Analog phone is for the ride-it-out-warrior. Many chose to ride out the Wilma hurricane which was only category 1 when it hit South Florida last year. Most were without power for at least four days, some even longer. When all else fails you can always rely on a 100+ year old technology. Remember that phone service is operational even if power goes out. You can buy an analog phone at Walgreens for $5–10.

Pro: Cheap, reliable.

Con: Ugly.

 

Disaster Blog

Even if you are not a blogger, even if you are illiterate, you need to have a place to organize yourself after the disaster. Like it or not you will become a news source for people because the first action everyone takes is to start surveying what is left. If your clients were smart to evacuate they can access your blog (makeshift web site) that can be updated as you find out more and more information and news that may not make headlines. For example, lets say your town in NW Virginia floods. Will CNN cover that in detail if you’re in Ohio? Highly unlikely. So you turn to local sensationalist news channel and newspaper which is more interested in the drama than the reporting. They also are unlikely to report on the technical issues. You should. You can get a blog at blogger.com, wordpress.com, typepad.com or any place you wish.

Pro: Free.

Con: Audience will need a network connection to access it.

 

Execution

The real key to success here is to prepare yourself to communicate with your clients during and after the disaster.

Preparation is what you do BEFORE the disaster.

Your clients need to know your failover phone numbers, they need to know your blog address, they need to have a way to contact you. So start informing them NOW. Putting up a blog as your roof is coming off your house is not a great way to start. Emailing business owners while they are ankles deep in water is not a good way to initiate a conversation. Telling them about these resources after they haven’t been able to reach you for two weeks is not going to build goodwill. If they have a choice between printing out your email or printing out their insurance policy I assure you that you will lose out.

So start today. Send out the blog address today. Fax over the info today. Call the office manager and ask if they are evacuating. Ask them what they have planned. Well prepared and organized business is not afraid of disasters, it is ready for them. It took you 5 minutes to read this post. It will take you another 55 to get it all together. So hold that CTRL button down and click on these links to put it in motion:

Skype DialinTmobile PrepaidBlogger.com

The clock is ticking, hopefully the survival of your business is not. 

22 Responses to Preparing for Business Disasters

  1. Scott McEngis says:

    Happy Monday to you too!

    I wish I had an hour today. I do have the cell and analog covered, the trick is to keep the emergency pack together.

    Keep the phone next to the phone cord.

    Keep the cell phone next to the cell phone charger.

    Setup redirections so when people call DR number it redirects them to the office #.

    Simple stuff. It’s way more than an hour because you have to think about how you execute these things. I do agree it is an hour to just get it but you do need to strategize.

  2. Greg Buchanan says:

    Awesome post. One suggestion. I just printed this to go you might want to offer a “print” template as this is going right into my book.

  3. Good post, Vlad. Having survived several ugly near misses in VA and one direct hit you learn things the hard way. I’ll never be a ride-it-out warrior again, I’ll run away and come back in behind the long line of power trucks.

  4. Lance says:

    Awesome post not to mention relevance considering whats in the gulf at the moment.

    EVERYONE SHOULD DO THIS!

    There, I even used caps 🙂

  5. Bob Hood says:

    Marvelous doc will forward it on.

    Good job!

  6. Stefan Eliott says:

    I would add to all that to consider getting a decent radio or even a hand cranked light/radio/flashlight combo. I had one of those during Charlie and it really helped out quite a bit. Also remember to buy the gas canisters because once the storm rolls around you will not find a single one, anywhere.

  7. Edgar J says:

    I send every email with two addresses – my personal domain and a massively hosted one that I won’t say here because you’ll dismiss the rest of this comment 🙂

    It helps to put all your contact forms in your signature. That way when they look at anything printed or emailed or in any way documented they can immediately contact you.

    This is more of every-day DR when my host is down. I know, I know, I’ve been planning to move to ownwebnow.com so this is not an issue in the future but if you don’t host with Vlad you might want to get a spare email addy.

  8. Sarah says:

    What about the power? This stuff (along with the spinny thing over Cuba) has me thinking about all my toys needing power or charger or extension cords or.. well, you get the picture.

    Whats the suggested way of keeping these juiced during outages?

  9. Rashad Myers says:

    Nothing like putting the fear of god in people on a Monday morning, eh Vlad?

    Great advice. Could probably write a book or two on it consideirng what you Floridians go through on annual basis. I think you got a solid outline there any interest in writing anything? I thought you mentioned you got a deal in works?

  10. cscriber says:

    Forgot just one thing..

    American Express.

    Don’t leave home without it. You can buy everything else.

  11. Joanna says:

    No disrespect but I’d rather see a complete plan for about $1000 than a starter one at $150. If this is as serious as you make it out to be is it not wrong to be cheap about it?

  12. rob says:

    I don’t think he is looking for a cheap way out of preparation. I think the basis of the post was If you haven’t done anything yet, spend the $150, put these systems into place now … because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. If you spend the $150 and nothing happens, Perfect! Incorporate what you just purchased into your long term recovery/continuity plan.

  13. vlad says:

    What Rob said 🙂

    Really all I hope to do with these Monday business-side articles is give you a starting point so you can build your business (not necessarily IT consulting business but any business) correctly in the Internet age.

    Most of the time it is not that we have incomplete plans but that we have no plan at all. What works for one bunch may not work for the other. I am not here to write a business continuity book with 300 pages that you’ll never read past the cover. I am here to give you a 5 minute tip on a busy Monday morning so you can start to appreciate what should go in your business and begin thinking the way that needs to start fitting into your own business.

    -Vlad

  14. vlad says:

    < ?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> < !DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> Untitled document

    Greg,

    Not going to provide a print template for Vladville. Simply put, this is not a magazine or a newspaper or an article (I'd stick those under articles). These are meant to be read, absorbed and acted on in any way you see fit. If you plan to "print this and stick it into a book" then you're missing the point of what I'm doing – entirely. Point is that this is not class, this is not reference material, this is not a book. This is just a tip. Take it for what its worth.

    Rashad,

    No books. I have a real job.

    -Vlad 

  15. vlogher911 says:

    A failure to plan is a plan to fail.

  16. Lynne says:

    Good post man, keep it up

  17. Great post.

    Luckily, we never have disasters in Sacramento. 🙂

    I hadn’t thought of the emergency web site. That’s a very very good idea.

    You the man.

  18. Great post. I would add that a Wiki can be a really useful business continuity tool, especially if your business is focused on workflow. I once threw up a Wiki on a $7-a-month personal website to keep the operations of a major technology news site going for two days after a total loss of Internet connectivity (when someone stole the DS3 cards for the company’s ISP right out of the co-location cage at Verizon’s central office in Manhattan).

    Also vital to that was having a list of backup email addresses for the staff, as well as IM.

    Great blog and podcast. Keep up the good work.

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  21. Brian says:

    Great post. I think I’ll spend the rest of the night brainstorming this very thing. Might as well when the power gets blown away 🙁

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