Be Ready Next Time: Business Continuity Lessons From Sandy
Sandy was a storm of record proportions. John Miksad, Con Edison senior vice president for electric operations, said it was the largest storm-related outage in their history and resulted in more than 7.5 million businesses and households without power in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Moody's Analytics put the economic impact in the $50 billion range. There are tons of stories of devastating losses and powerful testimonials of resolve from survivors and victims of the storm.
However, I hope we remember Sandy not merely for these staggering facts and incredible stories, but for the way it improved your organization’s resiliency. Something relatively unique to Sandy was lessons to be learned with popular trends in contingency planning: having a work-from-home strategy for employees and a fixed site for workspace recovery.
In Sandy, organizations that relied on a work-from-home strategy as their only recovery strategy encountered many challenges trying to meet the requirements for employees to: have power at home, have Internet at home and have a working phone. Most if not all of these elements have to work in order to your strategy to work effectively and in Sandy that was very difficult.
Power outages were very common and widespread, especially in residential areas which are generally the last areas to get power restored. This allowed for the smallest of windows for employees to work remotely and forced many of them to move where power and Internet service was available. Furthermore, rampant gas shortages limited how far employees would go for their job.
Compounding the situation was the massive Internet and cell phone outages in the tri-state area. Keynote, an Internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring service, reported that “almost everyone in and around New York City” experienced either full-scale outages of their Internet connectivity or sporadic performance issues.
However a work-from-home strategy can be a good answer for some organizations in certain industries, as long as it is done right; that is, tested in advance of the disaster. “After disaster strikes, it’s really too late to devise a telework plan, experts said. “Companies need to start practicing now,” said Barbara Goldberg, owner of Back on Track Solutions, a business that helps businesses overcome disasters to better serve customers.
Another common recovery methodology that was challenged during Sandy was the concept for work space recovery at a fixed facility or data center. In regional events the business practice of over-subscribing their service is exposed. That could leave many organizations helpless waiting at the end of the line for space that may never be available.
As with any building, these facilities are exposed to the same conditions when something as big as Sandy strikes. Even though most of these facilities have redundancies built in and backups in place, there is still the potential they can fail, and in the case of Sandy some did.
If you use an offsite data center, co-location or hot site provider for your systems and data make sure it’s located far away from your location so it isn’t exposed to the same disasters as your organization. If you continue to rely on them for providing workspace for your employees, I would recommend having backup options that provide you flexibility and multiple options for rescuing your staff.
Perhaps the biggest lessons (and hardest) to be learned is understanding what your recovery strategy/strategies are and enacting them sooner rather than later. Too many organizations waited too long to act and found themselves in a precarious position of standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other organizations that wanted the exact same thing they did.
There were many factors at play here: some organizations didn’t understand their backup strategies or how to execute them, some wanted to defer spending any money towards recovery until after they were confirmed down and others simply were hoping to be lucky.
Regardless of why organizations didn’t move, once supply and demand kicked in and there simply wasn’t enough resources to meet the demands of the organizations that failed to act early.
The sobering reality is that some of the businesses that failed to act will go out of business while others won’t be as big of a business as they were prior to Oct. 30, 2012. Business continuity and disaster recovery is about the survival of your organization – from the employees to the people and businesses that rely on your product or service.
Disasters are here to stay and many have predicted that storms like Sandy will only become more and more frequent. Don’t make the mistake of not looking far enough back in the history books to see what disasters may be lurking beneath your floors or outside your door. (There is a great map of historical disasters at Ready.Gov/Today.)
If you don’t take action today, your competitors likely will. So make sure your business is here to stay by preparing for when the “what if” becomes “what now?” Remember, the government isn’t there and can’t be there to keep you in business in business – that’s up to us.
Regardless of your recovery strategy, my goal for you is to have more than just one. I’m not saying to spend this year’s and next year’s budget adding redundancy to everything you do, but a healthy, mature business continuity and disaster recovery program is one that doesn’t rely on a single recovery strategy.
Regional events such as Sandy force you to adapt to the conditions and you have to have a recovery strategy that gives you this flexibility. The next disaster could be here before you know it. Just make sure it doesn’t happen before you’re ready.