Does your business have a leaky disaster-planning umbrella?


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Hurricane Sandy flew in and out, leaving a trail of hyper-caffeinated weather people in its wake. Sadly, it also left havoc and human suffering as homes, routines and lives were disrupted. Business suffering has scaled right along with this.

Comprehensive disaster planning is a well-established practice for large companies and this has shown in the practices of many. At the same time, many smaller businesses are still struggling to right themselves well after the storm has passed.

How could that be in this era of pervasive Internet, cell phones everywhere and business data in the cloud? Business leaders might assume if most everything is on the web, and all employees have cell phones, their organization can weather any storm. If the building burns, topples or melts into lava, no problem –– just relocate to the coffee shop for a few days, and the business can be held together with the long arms of the Internet and the reach of cell phone towers. The cloud and cell phone towers come to the rescue!   

But it can be just as important in 2012 to plan for a technology disaster as a brick-and-mortar disaster. The technology safety net that many businesses assume will bind them together in a time of chaos may also be the one that leaves them scrambling, even as buildings may remain unscathed. 

Hurricane Sandy knocked out 25 percent of cell phone service where it struck. In addition to the immediate outages, cell phone service went further downhill before it improved. Towers with backup generators in flood zones provided power initially but then went out as their batteries depleted. Many millions more were without power, and 25 percent of broadband Internet and television services were unavailable as well. The communications system was broken. And as if things were not confusing enough, in the early stages of the turmoil, a twisted tweeter spewed false status reports to those who were still on the Internet about all manner of key information, including the bogus claim that the New York Stock Exchange floor was covered by 3 feet of water.

It is hard to have a business spring back up like a jack-in-the-box –– even if all of its valuable business systems and data live in the cloud of the Internet –– if a company cannot coordinate its team or access its systems and if massive misinformation is flying around on top of that. The cell phones, Internet information flow and even the social media support systems like Twitter can all fail your business at a time of crisis. 

In the darkest hours, the primal ability of a business to pull itself together and figure out what is going on and what comes next will flow from people. But it might be people out of touch with other people!

I wonder how many businesses struggling to figure out when they should open, who would be there and how to proceed had ever sat down with a roomful of their key business team members and simply discussed what would happen if the day ever came when cell phones and the Internet failed them. Who is in charge, where do they re-convene, how do they proceed if they lose touch for days? There are many layers of important disaster planning that should be carried out for a business above and beyond this.  But this cheap, quick and easy discussion step is where every business should start, inspired by Hurricane Sandy. 

If you think you can unfurl the technology of 2012 like an umbrella to traverse a disaster, beware that when the time comes ­­–– as Sandy has shown us –– you may find a hole.

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