Disaster Warnings Shouldn't Take You Down

Wayne Rash
This is being written during a week in which there are disasters and potential disasters across the United States from New England to Guam. In the East, it's flooding from a series of severe storms that have dumped several inches of rain and snow on the area, followed a couple of days later by more rain. Flooding is common and in some places it's very serious. The Midwest suffered the same storms a few days earlier, and the northwest U.S. a couple of days before that. Then, later in the week a deadly earthquake in Japan triggered tsunami warnings across the Pacific Ocean. Portions of Honolulu were evacuated; some cities in California were evacuated as well.

The good news is that the damage to Hawaii was minimal if there was any at all. The bad news is that the evacuations disrupted operations at data centers in areas throughout the Pacific. In this case, what this means is that the staff at data centers in areas that could be potentially affected were sent to higher ground. In the East, some of those companies and their data centers were inundated. Those companies that had proper business continuity plans in place, and that executed them, might have been out of operation until the employees could get to an alternate operations site, but otherwise, the business could stay in business.

But of course, there will turn out to be hundreds of companies that suffer significant losses, and some of those companies will never return. And sadly, there's really no reason why that should be the case. After all, flooding almost always follows winter in the Midwest and the East. While the location may vary from year to year, it still happens. The flooding that happened this year (and may well happen again) was no surprise-the storms were spotted and their probable tracks known long before they reached the now-flooded areas. Companies that hadn't moved their data in advance of the disaster most likely weren't paying attention.

The evacuations that followed the massive earthquake in Japan didn't have as much warning, but still, there were hours before any effect of a tsunami might hit the U.S. West Coast. Hawaii had a couple of hours of warning, and emerged unscathed. The only potential risk was leaving the data center unattended for several hours. Most data centers should survive this with little effect.

Still, with tsunami preparations having the high profile they do in Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific, the fact that these warnings come shouldn't be a huge surprise either, and companies in areas that could be affected will need to take this into account if they plan to survive both the evacuation or a tsunami if one comes ashore.

In short, your only responsible direction is to assume that disasters, natural or otherwise, will happen. You may not know when, and you may not know what kind of disaster it might be, but one way or the other, they will come. If you plan to stay in business, you need to be ready. This means you need to have already found a place outside your area for your data to reside, and you need to have a business continuity plan that takes a variety of scenarios into account. To do anything less is to be irresponsible.

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