As Southeast Asia struggles to recover from the devastation wrought by December's tragic tsunami in the Indian Ocean, analysts around the world are playing the expected second-guessing game: Could warnings have prevented this huge loss of life? Can we predict the next big disaster--and will it be another tsunami, an earthquake, or something equally as destructive?
Last week's life-taking mudslides in California only serve to hammer this point home: We really don't know where or when the next disaster will hit. We can predict, but we can't know for sure. The most certain thing we can do is prepare.
Every disaster recovery expert understands the importance of stressing the potential of the worst-case scenario when speaking to clients. No matter how much easier it is to gloss over the possibility, thinking the probability is too low, organizations can't afford to ignore the chance.
It's vital that all disaster recovery plans address the worst-case scenario. You must have a plan for how the company will react to the disaster and begin to rebuild.
During such a disaster, your production facility will more than likely no longer be useable. Indeed, a major flood, fire, or earthquake could sweep away its existence entirely.
Dealing with massive destruction and death is not something any employee should ever have to deal with, but this can be an unfortunate fact of life. It's important to recognize that such an event often has serious psychological repercussions and that surviving employees may be in no shape to immediately begin recovery efforts. Your DR plan needs to address this possibility and discuss possible alternatives.
In addition, keep in mind the organization's needs may not be the first priority for surviving employees, who will likely be involved in recovery efforts that reach well beyond the company. Relief efforts, humanitarian aid, and medical volunteers are going to be very busy after such an event, and demanding their immediate return to work will help no one in the long run--not to mention, publicity from such an event may cause your company to lose even more business.
Construct a DR plan that will give such volunteers the time they need to help get the community back in working order, or you may easily find yourself without customers to use your newly recovered services. While this could mean delaying the company's own recovery efforts for a few days or a week, keep in mind that all disasters require some sort of triage.
Finally, it's important to realize that the engineers of your DR plan may be unable to actually carry it out. When creating a DR plan, you must face the grim possibility that some of your employees could be among those who lose their lives.
Part of your DR planning should be to cross-train staff to fill in for those employees who can't be part of your company's recovery efforts. Employing only one person who knows how to restore data is not an option, even if that means you end up training one of the administrative staff on the basics of tape backup.
No one likes to contemplate the worst-case scenario. However, it's the responsibility of the IT pros who've developed DR plans to prepare users and organizations to survive anything we can perceive may happen. Careful, clear-headed thinking before a disaster enables everyone to perform the necessary functions both within and outside of the company if the worst-case scenario does occur.
Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.