When Severe Weather Strikes, Will You Be Ready?

The severe tornados that swept through the Midwest and Southeast last Friday, December 10 left a trail of unprecedented devastation. In Kentucky alone, first responders fear the death toll may reach 100 people; in Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee, multiple deaths and hundreds of injuries were also reported. Across the entire region, thousands of buildings were completely destroyed, and leaders expect the economic impact to eventually reach into the billions.

It’s normal to feel helpless in the face of such extreme weather. But it’s also heartening to see so many people in the affected areas banding together to care for survivors and recover from the damage. This recovery effort has already received significant financial support from sympathetic people across the country, many of whom know what it’s like to struggle with such tragedies. Within just three days of the storms, more than $1 million had been donated to verified relief fundraisers on GoFundMe alone.

It will take days, weeks, and even months for businesses across the region to measure the full impact of the storms. But those companies that had disaster recovery protocols in place will bounce back quicker than those that will be scrambling to figure out how to respond to the loss of power, data, equipment, and even buildings.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Small Business Administration (SBA), 40-60% of companies never reopen their doors following a disaster—and 90% of small businesses fail within a year if they can’t safely resume operations within five days of a disaster. Data backup is the critical key to disaster recovery—particularly when it’s paired with business continuity protocols that are clear and easy for employees of your business to follow.

Defined as an organization’s ability to ensure that core operational functions are not severely impacted, business continuity often isn’t taken seriously until after a disaster strikes. But any unplanned incident—a short power outage, software malfunction, hardware failure, or even a temporary reduction in the workforce due to illness—can negatively impact your business and your bottom line.

Unsurprisingly, small businesses suffer in this area more than larger ones. According to FEMA, 20% of small businesses don’t devote any time to their business continuity plan, while 20% of larger companies devote at least 10% of their resources to such plans. And it isn’t just severe weather taking its toll on these companies. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 100,000 businesses have closed permanently; an October 2021 survey found that 90% of companies across North America were suffering from supply chain disruptions.

1) Make sure reliable data backups are in place.  Comprehensive protection begins with an assessment of all data assets. Working with a trusted IT provider, you can prioritize the format, location, and access requirements for all information. Then, with automatic backup processes in place, you and your employees will know that data is regularly, remotely, and redundantly saved in multiple locations. Comprehensive image backups should be stored both on-site (for business continuity) and off-site (for disaster recovery). Most business backups are only performed on-site, though—often on physical hard drives located directly next to the computers they’re backing up. If tornados, fires, floods, or even theft affect your business, those backups will probably be lost too.

2) Test the recovery of that data so you know how long it takes.  If a disaster strikes, knowing you have reliable access to your data backups is just as critical as the creation of them. Any disaster plan worth its weight should come with robust data recovery procedures baked in. That empowers impacted businesses to retrieve their information—and return to day-to-day operations—as quickly as possible.

3) Understand how virtual desktops can be enabled.  Depending on your industry and workforce, you may want to consider setting up a virtualization process for critical staff members who might start working remotely in the immediate aftermath of a storm. When you designate the first account that needs to be rebuilt, you can also enable recovered data to be installed there first, jumpstarting a return to normal operations. With pre-planning, these steps can be completed remotely, offering a failsafe option in the case of physical damage to your office or its existing networks and devices. It’s important to understand this process in detail—you don’t want to wait to see whether recovery actually works (or how long it takes) when an actual disaster has struck.

4) Put your business continuity plan to work.  Disaster recovery and virtualization are different from business continuity. To reiterate the definition outlined above, continuity is a coordinated plan for business survival—but it only kicks in once the explicit recovery process has been initiated. A comprehensive plan for business continuity doesn’t just help your business bounce back in the immediate aftermath of a disaster; it also lays out the steps necessary to survive and thrive in the face of unprecedented problems that could last for days (after a hurricane), weeks (after a tornado or fire), or even months and years (in the midst of an ongoing pandemic).

5) Help your employees understand the importance of their individual responses.  Automated technology processes can be planned perfectly. But human responses to crises can’t. Everyone reacts differently to different types of disasters; when it comes to weather, there’s only so much that preparation can do. By outlining the steps that your employees should take to communicate with each other, juggle responsibilities, and respond to day-to-day needs, you can prepare your business to respond better in the case of extreme weather or unexpected cyberattacks.No matter where your business is located or what kind of work it does, disasters can still have a significant impact on regular operations. At CMIT Solutions, we prepare for every type of challenge. Our North America-wide network extends around-the-clock coverage, strong data protection, and practical incident response plans to thousands of clients. We help businesses big and small withstand tornados, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, pandemics, ice storms, and other issues.

Want to prepare now before a disaster strikes your business? Looking to help those affected by last week’s tornados? Contact CMIT Solutions today.

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