10 Key Factors for a Robust Disaster Recovery Plan
Many business owners never expect to have to deal with a disaster, until it strikes. They’re then left wondering how their business can ever recover.
A disaster can strike anytime and cause serious, long-lasting damage to a business, if the right provisions have not been put in place beforehand. Disasters can be natural, physical or technology-based, from a terrorist incident to an office fire or serious flooding. Even the largest and strongest companies are not immune to human error, machine error or network security breaches.
- Set your priorities
- Establish reliable supplier relationships
- Put your A-team together
- Identify essential equipment
- Set your restoration timescales
- Invest in the right technology and processes
- Earmark funds for quick access
- Create a sound communication plan
- Drill, test, check and update regularly
- Expect the unexpected
If you’re running a company with large amounts of stored data, and access to that data is mission critical, the impact on your business from a loss of communications systems can be nothing short of a catastrophe.
The speed with which data communications systems come back online can determine the long-term survival of your business. It is therefore advisable to safeguard your business from the unexpected effects of a disaster, with a sound disaster recovery plan.
Disaster Recovery in 10 Clear Steps
Whether you’re creating one from scratch or improving an existing plan, our advice is to factor in the following considerations.
1. Set your priorities
The main goal after a disaster (once you’ve established your employees and their families are safe and sound) is to get your business back up and running as quickly as possible.
While you may not be able to restore all functions right away, your disaster recovery plan should identify which elements are the priority and need to be restored first. Depending on the complexity and nature of your business you may want to develop a sequence or script to follow once you get into recovery mode, in order to make the process as efficient as it can be.
Create a list of priority technologies, processes, departments and key areas that are the most important for your business operations and for dealing with your customers. For instance, it could be vitally important to restore your communications channels, so you are able to answer enquiries from customers and to contact employees.
2. Establish reliable supplier relationships
When disaster hits you need to know that you have suppliers and partners you can rely on during your recovery efforts. For example, partner with a dependable IT support provider who can help you restore your business data fast, including from a secondary / backup workplace location if your office has been affected by the disaster.
When choosing a supplier or service provider, make sure to ask about their disaster recovery services so you can incorporate them into your own plan. It’s also wise to use a supplier who can offer engineers to help you recover your systems at short notice during the early phases.
3. Put your A-team together
In the event of a disaster, you should have an identified team of key employees who can come together to restore your operations.
Put together your disaster recovery team in advance and allocate responsibilities for handling the different areas of your business. Include your list of named individuals in your disaster recovery plan.
Members of your recovery team should know and understand their roles and responsibilities in the event of a disaster, including the job of contacting other employees and leading them in the recovery process. It’s important to have backup coordinators in case members of the recovery team cannot be contacted immediately, and also to set out the line management reporting structure to maintain efficiency.
4. Identify essential equipment
Apart from your employees, you will need quick access to essential equipment and supplies to restore business functions after a disaster.
Create a list of computers, tools, supplies and equipment that you will require during each phase of your recovery. You should also identify how you will source this equipment if your own resources have been destroyed by the disaster.
If you have a secondary site or a backup network, ensure you include a network guide or diagram. If you need staff to physically go to the back-up site, ensure they have clear directions to get themselves there.
5. Set your restoration timescales
If you’re going to achieve your goal of getting your business operational as early as possible after a disaster, it’s very important to set the expected timeframes and milestones for full restoration of; servers, facilities, networks, computer systems and other critical areas that fuel your operations.
You should review the timescales regularly with your service providers, employees and partners, so everyone is on the same page and you can rely on getting the support you will need – when you need it.
6. Invest in the right disaster recovery technology and processes
Disaster recovery these days, while never seamless and straightforward, is a great deal less complex than it was even a few years ago, due to the myriad new technologies available to help secure data and ensure continuity.
A great example of this is cloud technology, which enables businesses to store and access important business data anywhere and everywhere.
Using cloud technologies, businesses can practice disaster recovery scenarios. By developing drills for disaster-related IT failures and the ways to mitigate them, businesses can ensure that in the event of a real disaster, IT operations can be recovered and re-instated quickly.
7. Earmark funds for disaster recovery
Inevitably, cashflow is likely to be hit hard after a disaster, which is why it’s very important to have a sound financial plan in place as part of a comprehensive disaster recovery plan.
IT resources may need to be made available very quickly in the event of a disaster. Understanding the scale and nature of the potential hardware, networking and software expenses that will be required, is a must for all organisations concerned about continuity planning.
For this reason it’s vital that you have quick access to financial resources.
8. Create a sound communication plan
After a disaster, you will need to communicate with your employees constantly, to update them of your recovery efforts.
As well as assigning coordinators as points of contact, lines and chains of communication need to be set up and tested regularly to ensure they work. The communications chain must be reviewed regularly and updated as required to account for staff changes.
Mobile phone numbers and/or email addresses must be kept up to date. Other backup lines of communication should also be identified, as one missing link in the chain could bring the plan down.
Once the communication plan is in place, it should be published and employees made aware (regularly) so they know what to do.
9. Test, test and test again
The key, once you’ve committed your disaster recovery plan to writing, is to drill, test, check and update your plan regularly in order to:
- Identify any loopholes that could affect recovery efforts and address them right away.
- Gauge the effectiveness of your disaster recovery plan.
- Ensure your employees remain aware of what to do if you are hit by a disaster.
- Check the accuracy and currency of communication trees and contact information.
Make sure to conduct a team review of the disaster recovery plan at least once a year (ideally more regularly) to familiarise staff with what they should do. They need to know the steps to take, procedures to follow and location of critical resources and data.
10. Expect the unexpected
Whether caused by nature, humans or technology, preparation is always key to recovering from a disaster.
However, despite all the preparation in the world, it’s unlikely that your disaster recovery will run like clockwork. Therefore, build in room for ‘what if’ planning and secondary back-ups. After all, your whole disaster recovery plan itself is based on a ‘what if’ scenario.