Trying to Reason With the Hurricane Season

By Lauren Simonds | Posted June 14, 2007

The hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 through November 30, is upon us, and if you don't already have a disaster plan in place, it's time to get going and get it done. And don't go thinking you're off the hook just because you don't live and work in hurricane territory. "Disaster" covers a lot of ground when it comes to Acts of God, human error and sabotage. A decisive plan protects your business every day of the year.

We've put together expert tips and resources to help you protect your data, the lifeblood of your business. Whether you're a sole proprietor working from a home office, whether you employ dozens of people or whether you fall somewhere in between, a proactive contingency plan is all that stands between you and disaster.

Are You a Small Business Ostrich?
The results of a recent survey of small businesses commissioned by Office Depot show that when it comes to disaster planning, a lot of small business owners and managers have their heads planted firmly in the sand. Consider the following findings:
  • 71 percent of small business employees work at a company that does not have a disaster preparedness plan
  • Two-thirds (64 percent) of those companies without a plan contend, "we don’t need it"
  • One in five businesses (18 percent) do not back up business data at all

Furthermore, 63 percent of respondents believe that they could pick up and continue business as usual within 72 hours of a natural disaster (hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake). According to the Association of Small Business Development Centers, however, "more than one-in-four businesses will experience a significant crisis in a given year and of those businesses that experience a disaster and have no emergency plan, 43 percent never reopen." Of those that do survive, only 29 percent will still be in business in another two years.

Jon Toigo, CEO and managing partner of IT consulting firm, Toigo Partners International knows something about disaster planning, having written several books on the subject and developed more than 100 contingency plans for various corporate and government clients.

"Not having a plan or back-up system in place can result in a business closing for good," said Toigo. "Just as you would prepare your home and family for a potential disaster, it's important that you also ready your business. There are simple, affordable solutions that will help protect you, your employees and your business.”

Office Depot offers a brochure entitled Expecting the Unexpected: Disaster Preparedness Strategies for Small Business to help you develop a plan. It's available as a downloadable PDF file, and you'll find the download link here.

Taking Steps
If you've never thought about a disaster plan, figuring out where to begin might be a bit overwhelming. Clearly, the type of plan you devise will depend on the type, size and specific needs of a particular business, but there are general truths that apply across the board.

Steve Siegel, vice president of marketing at Arsenal Digital Solutions, a Cary, N.C.-based company that provides on-demand data protection to small businesses around the world, offers five best practices to follow as you devise your disaster plan.

Know your data: Inventory and prioritize data based on risk. "Your data is not created equal," said Siegal. "Make sure you protect the critical, I-can't-do-business-without-it data first."

Get data out of harm's way: Establish and maintain offsite protection for your critical data before an emergency. "Keeping your data backup onsite, locally, or transferring it offsite manually simply isn’t enough," Siegal said.

Leave no PDA unturned: Don’t forget about data stored on mobile devices such as notebooks and Blackberries. "Find a solution that can protect all of your critical data, regardless of its location."

Practice makes perfect: Test your data-recovery capabilities regularly. "It's not just about protecting your data, it's about how well and how fast you can recover and restore it when something goes wrong."

Service Level Agreements: Know your rights when it comes to the contracts you have with service providers stating the amount of time they have to get your technology infrastructure up and running again.

Calling All Customers
If disaster strikes, once you know your loved ones and employees are safe and protected, you'll want to make sure your customers can reach you. Tom Wilson, the executive director of small business marketing at AT&T said that routing your calls can reassure customers that you're still in business. "Plan ahead to reroute your calls," said Wilson. "Check with your provider to see if they offer a specific emergency plan. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees could consider forwarding calls to a cell phone or voicemail box."

Disaster Planning Resources
• Office Depot's brochure, Disaster Preparedness  Strategies for Small Businesses
• The Small Business Administration Disaster    Preparedness Page
Disaster Recovery Planning.org
Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A   Small Business Guide, by Donna R. Childs and Stefan Dietrich

He added that in a minor event, such as a power outage that lasts a few hours, it's a good idea to keep a few phones around that don't need electricity to work.

For Floridians Only
For the second year running, AppRiver, an e-mail security solutions provider in Gulf Breeze, Fla., is partnering with the Florida Chamber of Commerce to offer free emergency e-mail protection to Florida businesses during the 2007 hurricane season – June 1 through November 30.

According to Scott Cutler, executive vice president of AppRiver, the Digital Disaster Preparedness program is available at no charge to any business in Florida that hosts its own domain or whose ISP is located in Florida. "If your business is in the path of a named storm – in what the meteorologists call the "three-to-five day cone of uncertainty," you can activate the service," said Cutler.

Should a company's e-mail server stop working (due to hurricane-related damage), the service protects incoming e-mail by re-routing it to one of AppRiver's remote secure data centers located throughout the U.S. and Europe. AppCenter will continue to route the e-mail until the affected company is back up and running or directs them to reroute the e-mail to a different server.

To take advantage of this offer, fill out the online form on AppRiver's Web site. From that point, AppRiver can activate the service in as little as 10 minutes, should it become necessary.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!


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