Sound-Off: Test your disaster plans before trouble strikes

Creating a plan is only the first step in preparing for a disaster. After you've developed your plan, be sure to test and retest it with real-time drills. Here's what TechRepublic members had to say about their disaster preparation tips.

A disaster recovery plan is nothing more than a piece of paper, unless you test it. Yet, this is precisely the step most overlooked by businesses, contends TechRepublic member Wendell Geng.

“Military planners spend careers planning ‘what if’ scenarios, and then a lot of folks get to ‘play war games’ to see if they work,” stated Geng. “You have to execute or you’ll never know for sure, and it is usually a simple, obvious overlooked step that will cause catastrophic failure.”

We recently asked TechRepublic members for their feedback on the disaster plans of a California-based company called VISTA International & Canadian Postal Agency, Inc. In our article, VISTA president Lorraine Duclos shared the steps she had taken to prepare the international delivery company. Her plan included:
  • Using an Internet-based customer relationship management tool.
  • Specifying an out-of-country business hub in Montreal, Canada.
  • Synchronizing all records one to three times daily so all offices have updated customer, vendor and prospect information.
  • Establishing a voice mail system to keep customers informed during emergencies.
  • Providing VISTA’s California representatives with backup cellular phones equipped with e-mail and paging capabilities.
  • Establishing a policy that all customers, staff, and vendors be contacted by VISTA during a natural disaster.
  • Establishing a policy that all employees report to an office that is not affected by the disaster area.
  • Posting information on the company’s Web site to keep customers up-to-date on company operations.

Practice makes perfect
Geng suggested that Duclos go one step further by running drills to test each facet of the plan.

“I would commend your efforts for taking all the steps to get to your current position,” Geng stated. “Now give it an acid test, and try some part of it just to make sure it will work.”

Geng cited a back-up generator as an example of what can go wrong. Without testing the generator, he said, how will you know whether it will support the load you need? Or what if no one checked the generator’s fuel consumption, and once the disaster happened, you learned a tank would only keep you running for six hours?

Geng also emphasized the importance of holding regular drills. By conducting drills on a regular basis, you can train new staff members as well as identify any new problems that may arise as your business evolves, Geng said. “Make sure your critical path is not failure prone and you have alternatives available,” he wrote. “Remember, you are looking for the weak link in the chain, and finding and fixing it once does not mean it is fixed for all time.”

Don’t forget to document the work
Ann Marsden, a senior consultant with C.C. Pace Systems, Inc., agreed that Duclos’ plan needed testing. She also recommended that VISTA take steps to ensure staff members can fill in for co-workers who may not be able to get to work.

“This is important in the event of a natural disaster where a large physical area may be affected, and travel (is) difficult at best,” Marsden wrote. “It may take days for airports to be open, travel by road may be difficult or impossible. Someone else may have to do the work and will most likely not be all that familiar with it.“

Companies should also make sure their back-up locations can handle the increased workload by making provisions for third-party services and special equipment needs, she recommended.
Do you have a policy or problem you need feedback on? If you have an interesting dilemma or issue you need help on, send it to us and we’ll present it to the community for feedback. Or, if you prefer, post below.

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