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Hurricane Harvey’s Devastation Highlights the Critical Need for Disaster Preparation and Safe Damage Assessment

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Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast last Friday night as a Category 4 storm with winds in excess of 130 mph. By Sunday, Harvey’s path of destruction spread inland, claiming at least five lives and flooding the Houston metropolitan area with record-breaking rainfall — in some areas, more than 30 inches and counting. That’s because Harvey, now downgraded to a tropical storm, stalled, exiting back into the Gulf of Mexico while still inundating the area with rain.

Thousands of search and rescue operations are still in progress, meaning it might take weeks or even months until a full assessment of economic damage can be taken. But all indications point to Hurricane Harvey delivering an enormous blow to the 4th-largest city in the United States, with thousands of homes and businesses destroyed and lingering effects for months and years to come.

Below, CMIT Solutions has compiled two critical checklists: one to follow for anyone feeling the effects of Harvey who plans to assess flood damage to an office or IT equipment, and one for those who might be unaffected at this moment but hope to plan more effectively for natural disasters in the future.

Why is such a list necessary? Because more than 2/3rds of American small businesses still don’t have a written disaster recovery plan. That’s according to the Small Business Indicator, a survey of 502 companies conducted in 2016 by Harris Poll. Other findings from the poll? 21% of small business owners say disaster preparedness isn’t a high priority, but 22% say they’ve already been impacted by a natural disaster.

First, the critical checklist for anyone dealing with the effects of flooding from Hurricane Harvey:

1) If any equipment has been waterlogged, do not turn it on.

This can cause short circuits and electrical fires, compounding problems and possibly leading to further loss of property or even life. Even in offices that weren’t completely flooded, power outages can be serious culprits— when air-conditioning or dehumidifying units go down for days at a time, small amounts of moisture can build up in computers, servers, and other IT equipment.

2) Work with a trusted IT provider to safely assess and test any electronic devices.

This is an intricate process that requires the utmost level of security and safety: moving all devices out of the affected location to a dry and clean area; wearing grounded shoes, suits, and eye protection; plugging in each device one at a time and allowing 24 hours for full boot-up, diagnostic, and regular operations; and restoring equipment to its original place. Do not attempt this step without the direct assistance of a trusted IT provider — it may seem like overkill, but office fires can occur several days after severe weather due to waterlogged equipment, even in a location that was otherwise unaffected by flooding.

3) If a hard drive containing critical data is affected by water damage, keep it wet in distilled water or with a wet paper towel in a Ziploc bag — especially if it was in saltwater. 

When saltwater dries, it can leave serious deposits on electronics that are very difficult to remove.

Anyone affected by Hurricane Harvey (or any other natural disaster) should be aware that equipment can be destroyed by more than just floodwaters. Power outages, moisture, mold, and other environmental issues can create unsafe operating conditions, even after the worst of the storm has passed and even if devastating floods are avoided.

Second, the general checklist for future disaster preparedness:

1) Implement off-site, redundant, and encrypted data backups. 

Most business data backups are completed on-site — often on drives located directly next to the computers they’re backing up. If fire, flood, or theft affects your business, you can’t expect those backups to survive. Having an employee take home data backups at the end of each workday isn’t an effective strategy either — fire, flood, and theft can strike vehicles just as easily.

2) Formulate a disaster recovery and business continuity plan. 

Many business owners think that, even if a disaster strikes, they’ll only be affected for a few days. This is one of the most indirectly harmful assumptions one can make — disaster relief experts expect Houston and surrounding cities (and the 6.5 million people who live in them) to be dealing with the effects of Harvey for months and even years to come. An estimated 25% of all businesses struck by natural disasters never reopen their doors — having a disaster recovery and business continuity plan in place before rain starts to fall or floodwaters start to rise is the crucial first step to long-term success.

3) Create (and test!) a virtualization strategy before disaster strikes. 

The best disaster preparedness plans include virtualization, which takes the data you have backed up remotely and rebuilds it on existing or backup equipment in the event of a hurricane, fire, flood, or other catastrophe. But if you haven’t tested your solution in a best-case scenario to see how quickly it can retrieve information and get daily operations back up and running, things probably won’t go well when faced with the worst-case scenario. Elite backup and disaster recovery offerings can perform a full restore in less than 48 hours — and those hours can mean the difference between weathering a storm and succumbing to it.

CMIT Solutions is committed to helping our clients survive and thrive in the face of natural disasters. Our nationwide network of more than 170 offices and 800 technical staff members mobilized last week in the face of Hurricane Harvey to help both CMIT franchisees in Texas and their clients prepare for and then address the aftermath of the storm, offering remote support capabilities, on-site damage assessment, and a level of service unmatched by anyone in the IT industry. Contact CMIT Solutions today to find out more about how we worry about your IT no matter what the challenge.

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