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5 Ways to Prepare Your Business For a Natural Disaster

Earthquakes. Floods. Tornados. Tsunamis. Terrorist attacks. No matter where your business is located, it can never be completely safe from disaster—both natural and man-made. And while most companies have some emergency strategy in place, it often takes a truly catastrophic event to demonstrate the importance of a business-continuity plan. Whether your business staffs dozens or hundreds, you need to be prepared for the worst. We asked Roberta Witty, research vice president at Gartner Research, what all businesses should do to ensure their data and resources are safe in the event of a catastrophe.

1. Know Your Mission Criticals

This entails understanding your IT supply chain and your business supply chain, Witty explains. “It’s a rare business today that does everything in house. You outsource a lot of your business, so your ecosystem is much expanded. A company with one location in Mainstreet, Anytown USA could have a key business partner in Asia or Europe, and if there’s a problem, guess what? Your business is greatly impacted.”

Knowing your key business partners is one thing, but how can you ensure they’re just as prepared as you are? Witty recommends familiarizing yourself with their disaster-recovery plans. “Depending on how critical they are to you, you may help them develop their recovery process, you may look for an alternate, or maybe start splitting up the work to multiple companies so you’re not reliant on that one source provider,” Witty added.

2. Back Up Your Data Offline

Backing up data may seem like a no-brainer, but many businesses forget that the cloud is not fail-proof. Witty points to a recent incident in Australia, where web-hosting service provider Distribute It lost all its data. “Their backups were online and they didn’t have offline backup to tape or another media. Not only did the production site go down and get wiped out, but so did the backups,” said Witty. “They had nothing to recover.”

As far as solution providers go, small and large businesses have many options for backup services, including Acronis, Cristie, IBM, and Symantec. Businesses with access to Gartner’s business hype cycle report can view a comprehensive list of business-contintuity product vendors.

3. Have a Crisis-Management Plan

If a disaster does occur, having a chain of command in place is key. “When something out of the ordinary occurs, the right team of people—usually the senior management—gets together and figures out how bad it is,” Witty said. “You have to make sure you’re informing your workforce and all of your key stakeholders, like your key customers. Managing the message is vitally important. It can make or break the reputation of a recovery.”

4. Secure Alternate Workspace

If a tornado or wildfire makes reaching the office impossible, the only way to keep business running as usual is to have another work location secured. “Lots of companies are looking at teleworking, not only as a regular option, but also it’s a great thing to have for recovery purposes. If you have people used to working from home, they can operate effectively,” Witty said.

5. Appoint a Business-Continuity Team

On both the business-operation and on the IT side, you’ll want to have someone in charge of monitoring things and making sure all disaster-recovery efforts are coordinated. Witty explains that, for many small and medium-sized businesses, this is just one aspect of an employee’s responsibility, while larger companies can afford to have full-time business continuity managers.