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In any column dealing with Business
Continuity Planning (BCP) and Disaster Recovery (DR), there will no
doubt come a time when the discussion must turn to large-scale
disasters. There has been a great deal of press and awareness of
man-made disasters, and lately there has been a true surge in
coverage of natural disasters with hurricane after hurricane
slamming into multiple cities again and again. Both types of
disasters can and do cause massive loss of systems, even entire
locations, not to mention the loss of life involved in the wake of
these events. How will your organization handle this type of

No organization can claim readiness for
large-scale disasters without addressing the trinity of BCP: Human
Resources, Facilities Management, and Information Technology. This
trio must work in concert to properly overcome a disaster’s impact,
so you will not be able to do this alone as an IT professional. It
would seem that even with all three groups working together, you
will still have an overwhelming task ahead of you, but if you break
the tasks down into component parts, you can manage the event and
maintain your business systems.

The first order of business is to get good
information flowing in. In the wake of a major disaster–natural or
man-made–you will no doubt find a wealth of information that you
will need to sift through to verify what is real, versus what is
either imagined or simply exaggerated. Case in point: After the
initial shock of the power failures in the northeast United States
in August 2003, many people were absolutely convinced it was a
terrorist attack, when in fact it was simply a large-scale
technology failure across several systems. Finding out what
happened and what resources you still have available is a vital
first step in the process of dealing with a disaster.

Your next priority is to get good information
flowing out. Make sure everyone who needs to be in the loop during
the initial recovery process is available, or that substitutes are
brought in. It may sound easy on the surface, but remember that
physical and mobile phone service may be interrupted, e-mail
systems will probably be offline, and other communication systems
may be acting erratically. Find the systems that are still working
and get the word out as soon as possible.

Hopefully, you have already determined your
Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) for your various systems before the
disaster struck. If not, there is very little you can do but try to
bring everything back up as soon as you can. If you do have RTO
numbers, start working with the shortest recovery times and bring
those systems up in alternate locations first, and leave all the
other systems for later–no matter how much people start yelling at
you to bring them up sooner.

At this point, you must concentrate your staff
on the most important systems first, regardless of the apparent
urgency that already panicked staffers may express to you regarding
other systems that everyone agreed were less important prior to the
actual disaster. Keep in mind that this may mean finding alternate
data-center space and acquiring new hardware if you haven’t already
planned for these eventualities. This is where Facilities
Management comes in to make sure you have a location to set all
this up.

Finally, after all the urgent issues have been
addressed, you can then begin to bring up other data-systems as
time and equipment will allow. If you’re in a smaller shop, HR,
Facilities, and IT may all be the same person, making your job
somewhat easier and harder at the same time, but all three groups
must be brought into the equation.

Dealing with a large-scale disaster is
something that everyone would prefer not to have to deal with.
Recent events have proven that it is–unfortunately–an eventuality
that no organization can afford to ignore.