Study: Many U.S. Businesses Still Not Ready For Disasters - InformationWeek

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Study: Many U.S. Businesses Still Not Ready For Disasters

The study by the Partnership for Public Warning and AT&T showed that nearly a quarter of companies don't have disaster plans in place.

Three years after Sept. 11, one year after a major blackout nailed the Northeast, and just days after a major hurricane devastated sections of Florida, nearly one in four American businesses still doesn't have a disaster plan in place, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study, done by the non-profit Partnership for Public Warning in conjunction with AT&T, surveyed 1,000 executives from 10 of the country's major metropolitan areas, including New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami.

A quarter of the businesses in New York and Washington, the two targets of the 9-11 attacks, lack a plan. But at least they're more prepared than businesses in earthquake-prone Los Angeles, where 30% of companies work without a plan.

"None of this was really a surprise," said Ken Allen, executive director of Partnership for Public Warning. "It was perhaps a disappointment, but it only confirmed what we expected: Too many businesses are unprepared."

Businesses in Florida are the most prepared, said Allen, with only 15% of the companies surveyed there operating without a business-continuity plan. More Florida companies tend to be ready for the worst, Allen said, because of their constant exposure to hurricanes.

"But even in Florida, news reports of thousands laid off after Hurricane Charley because their employers didn't have a plan in place are distressing," Allen noted. "A business-continuity plan is like an insurance policy. You don't think about it until you need it. And then it's too late."

Even a calamity isn't always enough to get the idea into people's heads that a plan is necessary. Although about one in five businesses said they'd suffered a disaster in the last 12 months that caused disruption; 75% of those that had been hit didn't bother to improve their plan or create one if they didn't have one before.

The study also uncovered other bad habits among those businesses. Nationally, nearly 25% of disaster plans haven't been updated in the last year, and more than 40% haven't been tested during that time.

"It's critical for companies to make sure their plans are up to date and reflect the latest threats," Allen said. "A company can have a great plan--but unless it's relevant, it's of little value." Still, he said, it's no contest between not having a plan and having an outdated one. "With the latter, at least someone has been thinking about it," he said.

Companies in New York tended to test and update their continuity plans much more frequently than those in other areas. Nearly 90% of New York companies have updated their plans, and almost 80% have tested them in the last 12 months. "That's probably because of the continuing threat levels there," said Allen, but it also could be because of the fresh memory of last summer's blackout.

On the IT side, 40% of companies surveyed admitted that they're skating on thin ice by not having redundant servers and-or backup sites.

The apathy is understandable, said Allen, if distressing. "Time goes by and you forget about [things like 9-11] and the press of business intervenes."

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