The news out of Japan in the past two weeks has been stunning. Japan is struggling with the aftermath of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster on Honshu island north of Tokyo. Stop for a minute and think about the likelihood of this type of disaster. The probability of such an incident is low, but yet it occurred. A week before the disaster, what if someone asked you to develop a business continuity or disaster recovery plan that accounted for a simultaneous earthquake and tsunami followed by a nuclear melt down? Would you have laughed, and suggested it was impossible?
Part of implementing business continuity and disaster recovery is about considering the unlikely and the unthinkable. This does not mean dwelling on the obscure or analyzing every possible disaster scenario, but it does mean asking yourself how thorough and complete is your recovery documentation?
Here are 5 tips to ensure your documentation and processes will stand up to the unknowns of a catastrophic disaster:
- Document plans with enough information so someone other than you can execute the plan.
Scenario – Assume for a minute that you are super busy restoring a critical Unix application following a disaster. There are also 5 other Unix applications that have to be restored in the next 4 hours. To facilitate this recovery “Bob” who worked on Unix system 5 or 6 years ago is brought into the incident to help recover one of the remaining Unix systems. Do you want “Bob” stumbling through shorthand instructions in the plan document? Probably not. This is why descriptive and complete plans are a must.
- Where you rely on hardware manufacturers or vendor support during disaster recovery consider alternate sources.
Scenario – “Anita” has been a vendor representative supporting your team for the last 6 years. Not once has “Anita” or her company failed to support an urgent service request in that timeframe. Following an area wide disaster your team calls “Anita” using the 24×7 toll free support number to order emergency widgets. Only one problem – the toll free number failed and e-mail bounces. Do you have an alternative?
- Do not assume vendors will accept purchase orders for equipment or supplies needed in a disaster.
Scenario – Firewalls, Inc. a local supplier of network security appliances has been a vendor with your company for 10 years. Your account allows net-30 billing or pay with a purchase order. After a disaster, Firewalls, Inc. loses their computer system and is unable to process orders for customers that prefer to be billed or that use purchase orders. Credit card transaction processing is also down. They will, however, take a check or cash at time of delivery. Do you know how to request a check during a disaster?
- Consider multiple ways of communicating with internal and external groups.
Scenario – A catastrophic tornado passes near your headquarters buildings overnight. Your office building is safe, but you need to communicate with others on your team about the incident and possible long term impacts to the data center caused by an area wide power outage. Mobile phones are out of service. Only 1 in 20 land line calls will go through. The Internet connection you depend on at home is also down. How will you communicate with your team?
- Make sure that you and the rest of the team that you work with know their roles and responsibilities during a disaster.
Scenario – After working non-stop on a project for months you celebrate the successful completion of the project by taking a week long vacation in Aruba. You left your Blackberry at home and no one at the office thought to ask for the number at the resort. A disaster strikes and you’re not there to lead the team in the response. Will all of the team members know the roles they are expected to play? “Knowing” your disaster roles and responsibilities means knowing them cold – without hesitation, research or study. A parallel example is a Marine Corps rifleman – you can’t be a rifleman without being able to assemble your rifle blindfolded.