CXO

5 best practices for disaster management

Managing through a disaster demands special skills and preparation. Here's how you can prepare.

When disasters hit IT, the first impulse may be to restore offline systems. However, anyone who experienced a major disaster as a CIO or a senior level IT manager knows that human, as well as technical concerns, are at stake.

I remember several IT colleagues who had managed through Hurricane Katrina saying that, "It wasn't about the systems we had to recover. We lost key personnel who were killed in the disaster. We had no one to back them up. Employees were in grief and shock. It was hard to function."

SEE: Disaster recovery and business continuity plan (Tech Pro Research)

If you are the manager in a disaster situation, you must put your own feelings aside and deal with those of your staff, your management, your customers and others—while you recover systems.

This is what makes managing through a disaster so difficult—and so different—from everyday management. However, you can prepare.

Below are five best practices for managing through a disaster.

1. Have an updated disaster recovery plan with very specific instructions

In a 2016 survey conducted by Zetta, a data protection and recovery solutions provider, 60 percent of the organizations surveyed had a documented disaster recovery plan in place, and just 40 percent tested their plan annually.

Don't put your company in a similar position. If a disaster hits, your staff and employees will operate at levels of high anxiety and stress. They will not think clearly, and mistakes can be made. In these circumstances, an accurate disaster recovery plan that contains specific instructions for recovery is invaluable.

SEE: Shelter in place emergency policy (Tech Pro Research)

2. Regularly test your disaster recovery plan

You don't want to find out that your disaster recovery plan doesn't work during a disaster. The only way to ensure this is to test your plan regularly or at a minimum annually.

3. Include business operations in your disaster recovery plan

Depending on your organization, IT may or may not have responsibilities beyond restoring systems during disaster recovery. Nevertheless, it is still a good idea for those at the CIO level to coordinate with other business managers, hopefully extending the participation in the disaster recovery group. This is important because when systems fail there must also be backup business operations to keep things afloat.

In a bank setting, for example, it might be necessary for tellers to keep manual ledgers. This type of operational failover doesn't happen very smoothly unless the business, and IT coordinate on disaster discovery planning.

4. Check on your people first

I once was in a disaster recovery during a building fire. Employees were ushered out through doorways. As some of us helped employees out, I saw the entire executive team and CEO standing in the parking lot. This isn't the way to run a disaster recovery. An executive's first obligation is to his or her people. Before you start restoring systems, make sure that your staff is accounted for and safe.

SEE: Severe weather and emergency policy (Tech Pro Research)

5. Have a communications plan

I worked as a CIO at a financial institution when an earthquake rocked Washington state. I recall a teller at a branch told customers that our data center was totally ruined and that it would take weeks to restore systems. The situation wasn't that bad, and we ended up with a second disaster within a disaster —because we now had false communications out to customers, the media, and other stakeholders.

If we had a communications "tree" in place that directed employees to refer matters to their managers, and for managers to refer questions to the PR department, the communications disaster would not have occurred.

Also see

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Image: designer491, Getty Images/iStockphoto

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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