Truly Preparing for the Worst

Wayne Rash
A couple of days ago, while I was watching the horrific scenes of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I thought about writing about disaster planning in this blog. But the more I watched, the more it became obvious that Japanese businesses and the Japanese government had done far more planning, and had been doing it for many more years, than anyone I know of in business in the U.S. This planning was so carefully done, so painstakingly carried out that when an earthquake of truly historic proportions struck the nation, nearly every one survived the initial quake. 

Of course, all of the planning in the world isn't going to protect against the damage of an earthquake that moves the entire main island of Japan eight feet. And that planning isn't going to protect against a wall of water 36 feet high as it ravages an entire quadrant of the island. After it was all over, Honshu was devastated, thousands of people were killed, and many thousands more were living a brutal, terrifying existence. The calamity is unimaginable. Even the constantly repeated images that continue on the news don't really tell the terrible story.

So writing about disaster preparedness and why you should engage in it seems superfluous. If you haven't figured out by now that you need to be ready for any disaster that can befall you, then perhaps your business deserves the Darwinian end that is sure to visit some day. But for the rest of us, planning for the disaster is only half of the story.

The other half begins in your imagination. Suppose for the sake of disaster recovery planning that your company's facilities are gone from the face of the earth. Suppose that half of your employees are dead or that they simply cannot get to work regardless of how badly they may want to. Suppose there is no power, no Internet access, suppose there's nothing. In other words, to put the imagining on a more local footing, suppose 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina had just happened to your business. Suppose a disaster akin to what happened in Japan landed on your doorstep. Can you recover?

If you've been pretending that disasters can't happen to you, or if you've been hoping that this whole recovery thing would just go away, then no. Your company is toast. Because of your negligence, you've betrayed the trust of your stockholders, your customers and your fellow employees. But perhaps you've taken the problem seriously, and you've made plans for an operations site somewhere away from wherever your company is located. And maybe you've been copying your data to the cloud, and making sure the cloud computing service provider is a long way away from where you are.

If that happens, and the unimaginable does indeed become reality, then you've got a chance, provided that you've taken the final step. That step is to provide a set of detailed instructions about how to bring your company back online in some other location. And that has to include the assumption that you and your IT staff didn't make the list of survivors. What exactly will you tell your successors they should do? What are the tiny details they must know to bring the company back to life? If you've done your job right in terms of disaster planning and recovery planning, then you know what those steps are. So practice them to confirm that you haven't left out anything.

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