Over a dozen states were impacted by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Sandy caused $18.75 billion in insured property losses, excluding flood insurance claims covered by the federal flood insurance program, according to Property Claim Services (PCS), a division of Verisk Analytics. New York and New Jersey suffered the largest private insurance losses from Sandy, according to PCS.
September is the most common month for hurricanes making landfall in the U.S., followed by August and October, according to an analysis of data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA. No hurricanes made a U.S. landfall before June and after November during the period studied.
Power outages that often follow catastrophic storms are dramatic: cost to the U.S. economy is between $80 and $188 billion per year. When power is disrupted to IT systems, 33% of impacted companies lose between $20,000 and $500,000; 20% lose $500,000 to $2 million; and 15% face catastrophic losses, facing more than $2 million in damages.
If you are a business owner or stakeholder, those figures are more than just dramatic—they are truly alarming.
What follows are tips and considerations for business owners and decision-makers when designing, deploying, and maintaining their business continuity plans and disaster preparedness protocols.
Have a plan in place
Having a plan in place and making sure that everyone is in the loop is critically important. Your employees need to understand not only how the emergency plan affects them, but also what their specific roles and responsibilities within that plan will be. Even the most strategic, thoughtful, and well-designed plan will be of limited value if your entire team does not understand how to implement it. While many companies rely on outside experts or consultants to provide logistical support and planning expertise, failing to disseminate and integrate that plan into the ranks of personnel is an all-too-common mistake. While essential employees like IT staff and managerial team members will necessarily have more on their plate, every employee needs to understand what to do (and what not to do) in the event of an outage or other emergency interruption.
Planning alone is not enough. It is important to talk through and walk through your business continuity preparations and disaster preparedness regularly. The old sports adage explaining that you “play like you practice” holds true in business, as well. Comprehensive training should be an essential part of every business continuity plan deployment, and that training should not be a one-time event. Regular, rigorous, and repetitive emergency training and drills should be part of standard operating procedure for every company. One of the advantages of “role playing” and emergency walk-throughs is that they so often identify gaps and vulnerabilities that were not evident on paper. Regular training and walk-through sessions can also highlight where changes need to made to the existing plan as technical advances and operational changes make certain elements of the original plan less redundant, less efficient, or obsolete.
Bridge the IT gap
IT has evolved from what was once largely a supporting role (primarily involved in internal company functions) to a key player in customer service, revenue generation and business growth. The problem, however, is that as technological complexities have grown, and as businesses have become more reliant on technical infrastructure, the ability of decision-makers without a specialized IT background to make strategic decisions about how to protect that infrastructure has been significantly diminished. A recent survey cited in “Understanding the Cost of Data Center Downtime” from Emerson Network Power found that while the majority of senior-level staff fully support efforts to prepare for, prevent and manage unplanned outages, less than one third of IT respondents believed that their company was utilizing resources correctly and efficiently to provide maximum protection to the most critical IT components. While executive staff may have a better appreciation for the costs and consequences of downtime, IT staff have a deep and technical understanding of where your systemic vulnerabilities are located and what essential systems and components should be prioritized in the event of an emergency. Clear and direct communication between IT and senior management is vital if you wish to develop a truly effective business continuity plan.
Estimate the cost in advance
Before you can adequately prepare for a disaster, it is important to understand what is at risk, and to appreciate that losses from a power failure can be extensive. For a business, the recovery time can be significant, and the financial impact can be damaging. If nothing else, knowing the real numbers might scare you enough to take planning seriously.
Have the right equipment
Having the right equipment in place for immediate response can make the difference between a damaging outage and a minor inconvenience. The difference between winners and losers in a post-interruption environment is often defined by minutes, if not seconds, and delays can be costly. While backup generators are often the most visible piece of your emergency backup infrastructure, they do not exist in a vacuum. Generators require fuel, and some generators require some time to get fully powered up. The need to bridge the outage gap and get to the generator without losing data requires many companies to invest in an uninterrupted power supply (UPS)—an electrical apparatus that provides emergency power instantaneously. The technical and operational architecture for various UPS solutions varies (as does the cost), and it is important to be thoughtful and strategic about selecting UPS equipment and a UPS vendor that meets the needs of your business or property.
Secure partners for onsite support
For many businesses (particularly those with large networks of generators or facilities that require elaborate or extensive support) an extended outage requires an enhanced level of onsite support. An emergency fueling plan/solution should be an integral part of the business continuity and disaster response planning for these firms. When selecting an emergency fueling vendor, prioritize candidates with the infrastructure advantage of a national storage, supply and distribution network: true nationwide coverage translates to the fastest possible response times in an emergency. Ideally, that network should be supported by a dedicated fleet of vehicles and personnel capable of rapid deployment. Vendors with those resources, as well as resource staging expertise and sophisticated post-event management and fleet dispatch control—which can be enhanced by mobile fueling stations and geographically diverse supply points—may be able to offer a guaranteed emergency fueling response time.