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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Disaster Preparedness

Disaster Recovery Planning has developed into an industry unto itself. There are firms that specialize in this, providing comprehensive planning systems, often costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you're a large enough enterprise, they're worth every penny.

But there's a lot that a small business can do to help prepare for a business disruption too. Obviously, insurance is an important component, but insurance isn't going to prevent your customers from finding other vendors, while you're trying to get things up and running again. No, I don't sell insurance, but if you need some, I know a guy...

The point is, you want to get as much of your business back up, as quickly as possible - even if it means getting a couple of computers set up in your living room for a few weeks.

Redundancy is the key!

The more redundant your systems, the less you will suffer, within reason. That's the idea behind data backups, but there are other things you will need "backed up," besides your data itself.

Here is a short list of things you can do that will greatly decrease the time you'll need to bring your computerized systems back quickly:
  • If you have applications that run your business - even if it's just Microsoft Office - be sure to have copies of the CDs and, if possible, the documentation stored somewhere offsite.

  • Have a list of all your critical system passwords stored in at least two locations: one onsite, and one offsite. Restoring your data doesn't help you, if you can't log into the computer. This list doesn't have to be computerized, by the way. It does, however, have to be a "living document," in that, when you change the information, all copies get updated. And of course, you'll want all copies to be secured.

  • Where possible, use automation to alert you when your critical systems go down. No one really wants a text message at 2:30am, but believe me - you'd rather know than not.

  • Document everything! This is an important one, so let me repeat it: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!! (How's that for being redundant?) Pretend you had to bring in someone new to get your computers up and running again, and he knows nothing whatsoever about your business. He'll need all the information we've mentioned above, as well as:
    • Your restore procedures, including how to get to the backup software and media, as well as any documentation he might need to operate it.
    • Vendor information, including account numbers and system credentials (username/password), as well as a list of the software you're using.

  • Do periodic run-throughs of your recovery procedures. This will help identify anything you've left out of your plans, and keep everyone familiar with them.

A basic Disaster Recovery Planning worksheet is available at our website. Click here to get it.

We all hope never to suffer a business disaster, but it happens. As they say in the Boy Scouts, be prepared.