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Hurricane, Wildfire Seasons Highlight Importance Of BC/DR Plans

Companies need to consider where to house displaced workers, select appropriate backup locations, and plan for potential infrastructure damage.

Wildfires are raging across the Western states, and hurricane season is well under way in the Atlantic. As of Wednesday afternoon, maps based on data from the National Interagency Fire Center showed wildfires from Alaska to North Carolina, with groupings of three or more blazes in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Tropical Storm Debby has moved out to sea, but not before destroying homes, businesses and roads in Florida. Against this backdrop, Internet consumers, mobile workers, enterprises, and machine-to-machine communications continue to create and require more data. New data centers open ever more frequently to meet the demand. In such a climate, enterprises should confirm their business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

When examining BC/DR planning for hurricanes and wildfires, companies should provide for a potentially displaced workforce. If disasters threaten a data center, network operations center, or office space, the organization should have employee housing where possible, facilities for people to work from, and data backed up off-site (and well out of the disaster area) for them to work with.

"Here in Utah, there are a lot of short-term shelters where displaced workers can go," said Jon Rusho, the seismic network engineer responsible for business continuity and emergency planning for the University of Utah's seismograph stations and its College of Mines and Earth Sciences. However, it's a location-specific issue for companies seeking housing for workers, and not every place is like Utah. It can also be difficult to find long-term housing if people are displaced because of destroyed homes. Talk to your workforce in advance and urge employees to plan ahead concerning their families and the search for hotels.

When selecting appropriate off-site backup locations, there are a number of considerations. "For our earthquake data, we have two hot sites up at the same time so that if one goes down, the other automatically takes over," Rusho said. Businesses that rely on real-time data must have a hot backup site. Enterprises that can withstand up to 10 or 12 hours of downtime may find a warm backup site sufficient. Cold sites are for businesses that can withstand several hours of delays and downtime.

Determining The Threats

A business impact analysis can point up any risks to the operation and help companies determine whether hurricanes and wildfires threaten their facilities. The Salt Lake City area, for example, is vulnerable to brushfires, said Rusho. The business impact analysis should also address whether disasters indirectly threaten the operations and whether fires or storm floods could cut off the location and routes to and from it.

BC/DR planning should address the impact of disasters on the utilities that serve the enterprise. "Recent fires in Utah damaged the electrical infrastructure," said Rusho, who formerly worked on disaster recovery planning and data center relocation for Excite@Home. The enterprise needs to know the utilities and Internet providers and how these deliver its services. "In the western part of the U.S., the major utilities' power lines go out to the middle of nowhere and are vulnerable to wildfires," Rusho said. The electrical grids have redundancies in place to work around these potentially risky areas.

Finally, a BC/DR plan should consider whether your company's suppliers are located in high-risk areas. The organization should have alternate suppliers in other locations with parts in stock.

Monitoring These Disasters

To determine when to invoke the BC/DR response that addresses these types of disasters, monitor the media, especially social media, for news about storms and fires. National resources include the InciWeb Incident Information System, which has a Twitter feed @inciweb; the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center, which has Twitter feeds @NHC_Atlantic and @NHC_Pacific; and the National Interagency Fire Center, which has a Twitter feed @BLMNIFC.

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