How to plan for a natural disaster during a pandemic

    May 21, 2020

    Annual hurricane season forecasts are here, and the news is less than ideal.

    Colorado State University’s forecast predicts "above normal" activity for the 2020 season. Penn State’s Earth System Science Centre believes the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season could become one of the worst we’ve ever seen.

    And it’s not just hurricanes you need to look out for. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also forecasts widespread flooding this spring.

    Which begs the question: Is your business prepared for natural disasters that could hit during the current COVID-19 pandemic? 

    How can you focus on handling the present situation, while also devoting resources to preparing for the many other potential threats your business might face in the coming weeks and months, from hurricanes to cyberattacks to power outages and equipment failure?

    It requires a balancing act. No one wants to weather one disruption only to be unprepared for the next. Start with three areas to prepare your business for handling another disaster during a pandemic.

    1. Workforce availability and capabilities

    Your plan should already account for unavailable workers, but consider the new challenges due to the pandemic. Your new plan should factor in current working environments, a potential second wave of COVID-19 and the possibility of a future pandemic situation. 

    For example, if your original recovery plan was built around having your team present in the data centre, it’s time to evolve that plan. Now that employees are working remotely, how can they virtually intercede and run point on your disaster response? Or what if someone gets sick or has connectivity issues? How will your company handle these potential absences? How will a geographically dispersed recovery team collaborate effectively while maintaining a historical record of all discussions, decisions and actions?

    Coordinate with your team, cover various scenarios and discuss how employees’ roles and responsibilities might change in the face of different disasters.

    Don’t forget about concentration risk. Is it possible for your entire recovery team to be impacted by the same regional event, like a hurricane, snow storm or blackout?

    To take the burden off your team, you might consider sharing some of the recovery responsibilities with a third party provider who specializes in Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). This will ensure your DR response is under control, while also enabling employees to focus on other tasks at hand. Plus, it eliminates the concern around concentration risk.

    Circumstances have evolved. Your DR plan must adapt as well.

    1. Flexibility in business and technology

    Every disaster carries the possibility of unforeseen circumstances. That’s why scenario planning is so important. It’s also why you should build flexibility and contingencies into your plan.

    What if your essential equipment breaks? What will you do if you can’t get a replacement part for months due to supply chain disruptions?

    And where will you go next after transitioning to your designated DR environment? The original production site? A new physical one? A virtual one?

    Perhaps you want to stay or move to the cloud rather than rebuilding or spending new capital? Are you ready to make that change?

    The more flexible your business and technology are, the better prepared you’ll be to adapt and evolve on the fly.

    1. Testing, testing, testing

    DR testing probably isn’t at the top of your list of priorities right now. Like other companies, you’ve likely been busy ensuring your remote workforce is performing as effectively as possible, or concentrating on shoring up potential security vulnerabilities.

    However, it’d be a mistake to put off testing.  

    While you likely have bigger concerns, hurricanes, tornadoes, power outages and other disasters aren’t going to wait because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. You don’t want to find out you’re not prepared to withstand an additional disaster when it’s already upon you.

    By maintaining a regular testing schedule, you’re able to modify your plan as needed and close potential resiliency perception gaps. Remote testing and automated testing are also possibilities. These can help lower the stress on your teams, increase testing frequencies and are especially helpful in situations where employees can’t physically travel to the DR data centre. By encouraging and performing regular testing, your employees will build muscle memory for responding to a wide range of disruptions. 

    Keep one eye on the future

    Hurricane season is fast approaching, and forecasts suggest it could be active.

    While no one can fault you for dedicating your attention and resources to handling the current pandemic, you can’t afford to turn a blind eye to other threats on the horizon.

    By sticking to your testing schedule, preparing for workforce unavailability and maintaining flexibility in both your business and technology, you stand a better chance of overcoming a disaster should it hit during this trying time.

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