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?
I 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:
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
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 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 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.
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.
Con: Audience will need a network connection to access it.
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:
The clock is ticking, hopefully the survival of your business is not.