Winter storms have swept across North America over the last few weeks, bringing snow, ice, heavy winds, and frigid temperatures to nearly every corner of the continent. With these storms have come associated disruptions both predictable and surprising—highlighting the need for better preparedness.
In mid-January, a powerful mid-Atlantic snowstorm buried Interstate 95, stranding some drivers in Virginia for more than 16 hours. Two weeks later, Winter Storm Kenan clobbered New England, dumping two feet of snow in a single day on Boston. Last week, Groundhog Day delivered a nationwide wintry mess, with power outages, school closures, and nearly 5,000 flight cancellations reported from the Pacific Northwest to the Rockies, the Great Plains, and the Canadian Maritimes.
One year after 2021’s devastating winter storm, Texas was again pummeled by unseasonably cold weather, snow, ice, and strong winds. Unlike in 2021, Texas’ power grid weathered the storm better this time. But the city of Austin still experienced problems with its water treatment plants. Even though the problem wasn’t weather-related, the city’s nearly one million residents were still placed under a temporary boil water notice.
This illustrates the need for proactive disaster preparation and readiness—for both individuals and businesses. After all, weatherproofing isn’t just for things exposed to the outdoors. The recent winter storms that have affected power and stranded employees at home prove that business continuity requires weather-related technology contingency planning in addition to cybersecurity planning.
Some companies plan for the worst and are prepared when disasters strike, only to find that their employees can’t make it to work safely. And some businesses may benefit from an engaged staff that’s ready to work, only to find it impossible to resume normal day-to-day operations. Whether you’re hoping for the best or just waiting for the worst to strike, it’s safe to assume that it’s only a matter of when, not if, a disaster will strike.
How Can Technology Help?
Data backup is key—especially when combined with disaster preparedness and business continuity protocols that can mean life or death for an impacted business. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40-60% of small businesses never reopen their doors following a disaster—and 90% of smaller companies fail within a year if they can’t safely resume operations five days after a disaster.
The gap between small and large businesses is even more glaring when it comes to business continuity. Defined as an organization’s ability to make sure core business functions are not severely impacted by an unplanned incident that takes critical systems offline, business continuity isn’t as widespread as you’d expect. According to FEMA, 1 in 5 companies spends zero time maintaining their business continuity plan, while 20% of larger companies devote more than 10 days a month to such plans.
If a Winter Storm Negatively Impacts Your Business, What’s the Best Way to Respond?
1) Check to see if comprehensive data backups are in place. First and foremost, you need to check that important business information is backed up regularly, remotely, and redundantly. It’s important to have comprehensive image backups both on-site (for business continuity) and off-site (for disaster recovery). The vast majority of business backups are only performed on-site, though—often on physical hard drives located directly next to the computers they’re backing up. If flooding, fires, or theft affect your business, those backups often can’t be saved. With automatic backups stored in a combination of physical and cloud locations, you can be confident that your data is there when you need it.
2) Make sure that data is recoverable. Maintaining reliable access to your data backups is just as important as creating them. At CMIT Solutions, our data backup plans include robust data recovery procedures. This helps affected businesses retrieve their information as quickly as possible to support a return to day-to-day business operations. Here’s that FEMA stat again for emphasis: 90% of smaller companies fail within a year if they can’t resume operations five days after a disaster.
3) Test the virtualization process for critical systems. The best data recovery plans should include a section dedicated to virtualization. This outlines which computers can be stood up virtually to reinstate and rebuild compromised data—and which users have the right access rights to jumpstart the necessary recovery process. Mission-critical machines can be designated as failsafe options in the case of physical damage to your office or its existing systems—that can even include a laptop or two used at home by key employees. The important thing is to test, test, and then test again—you don’t want to wait to find out whether data recovery actually works in the wake of a disaster, and you want to know exactly how long it takes to perform a full restore of your data.
4) Review business continuity plans. What’s the difference between disaster preparedness plans and business continuity plans? The former includes checklists to follow in advance of a disaster; the latter outlines a coordinated plan for business survival from the point of recovery forward into the future. A detailed template for business continuity doesn’t just get your business back on its feet in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. It outlines the short- and long-term steps needed to continue thriving in the face of unprecedented problems that could last for days (in the case of power outages), weeks (in the case of floods or physical damage to an office), or even months and years (in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic).
5) Make sure your employees know how to respond to disasters. Unlike automated technology processes, these can’t be planned perfectly. We all respond differently to different types of disasters, and when it comes to weather, there’s only so much that preparation can cover. (A good emergency kit with warm clothes, flashlights, water, food, batteries, and simple tools is a great start, though). Outlining the steps that your employees will take when it comes to communications, responsibilities, and day-to-day duties can help your business respond to anything that Mother Nature throws at you.
Some businesses stand to lose the most from natural disasters, especially if they’re located in areas vulnerable to winter storms. Other businesses have to worry more about data breaches, ransomware, and other cybersecurity incidents. No matter what threats your company faces, CMIT Solutions can help you prepare for them.
Our North America-wide network takes a proactive approach to cybersecurity and disaster preparedness. With around-the-clock monitoring and maintenance, strong data backup procedures, and practical incident response plans, we help our clients weather hurricanes, floods, wildfires, pandemics, ice storms, and other day-to-day disasters.
Need help overcoming obstacles and recovering in the face of business disruptions? Contact CMIT Solutions today.