As Hurricanes Harvey and Irma bore down on America’s southern coastlines, we were reminded once again that despite the annual preparatory drills, there are always some communities and organizations that are not ready with a resilience plan. And yet even when you follow all the rules, new situations arise that you simply can’t plan for.

In Harvey’s case, the sheer magnitude and expanse of the hurricane were unprecedented – and unexpected. The construct of the storm system itself led to massive rain development and as a result, extraordinary flooding. Once the storm made landfall, the footprint of the hurricane impacted an entire region of the state of Texas for nearly a week, causing one area’s problems to bleed into another area’s problems. But there were several other “gotchas” that made this natural disaster even more catastrophic.

  • For one thing, the storm delivered massive flooding along the Gulf Coast – where much of the nation’s oil & gas industry is located. Even if the energy companies could keep running, the people who run them had to protect their own lives and the lives of their families. This could impact the flow of gas for days or weeks, causing prices to rise and supplies to be limited.
  • Another hiccup: while the technology used to track storms has improved vastly since Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, this storm proved to be extremely unpredictable. The modeling systems couldn’t accurately forecast where Harvey would hit, or how long it would stick around. As a result, it snuck up on many. Stores ran out of supplies, gas stations ran out of fuel, communities ran out of time to evacuate.
  • Finally, many people who live in the impacted areas were simply not around or were too young to remember the last time a storm like this came ashore. Not to mention that the population of Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, has grown rapidly since the last major storm. Many citizens who were not directly impacted by the hurricane struggled with their own anxiety, not knowing what to do next or how to focus on work.

Thousands of people in the path of the storm had no experience dealing with a catastrophe of this magnitude. Thankfully, social media has made things easier and more timely. But as some questioned the Houston mayor’s decision not to call for a mandatory evacuation, others recalled the massive traffic jams that occurred in 2005 before Hurricane Rita, causing more deaths due to evacuation than to the storm itself.

For those dealing with the aftermath of Irma, the devastation is so widespread in Florida and the Caribbean that some communities are facing total shutdown for months or maybe years. The path of the storm was unsteady, causing some to over-prepare and others to under-prepare. Not only that, but Irma’s ongoing path into and out of the Atlantic allowed it to strengthen for multiple strikes, leading to greater devastation for a longer period than most storms.

No matter what kind of catastrophe you or your business face, there are always things you can do in advance so that last minute “gotchas” don’t bring you to your knees. If you are involved in information technology, your data should always be protected from unexpected events like natural disasters. The following tips and guidelines are always appropriate:

  • Make sure your data center, call center and end-user facilities are ready if a storm hits your area.
  • Check on things like fuel, access, food, special needs (first aid, etc.) and water in the office in case emergency workers are unable to leave the premises for a period.
  • Dust off old business continuity plans (either electronic versions or hard copies). Those responsible for business continuity should have a working copy with them should they experience a loss of facility, technology, and/or staff.
  • And most importantly, ensure that employees and their families are also ready, prepared and safe during the event. Educate employees on the plans, and communicate with them regularly so they can stay connected.

To help you plan for future disasters, Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) prepared a list of lessons learned following our experience helping customers recover from Hurricane Sandy. Not only that, but Sungard AS participated in a panel discussion about cyber risks post- hurricane on September 12, and the recording is available for download.

We always hope for the best, but after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma – and now Maria – it makes more sense than ever to prepare for the worst. One way to do this is to work with an experienced partner to make sure you have all the bases covered, with saving lives as the top priority. We’re here to help.

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