Disaster planning for SMBs

We decided this month to provide you with a tongue-in-cheek, but real world view of being a technology dependent SMB, working from the northern parts of York Region, located in the middle of a forest and how our own disaster plan has evolved.

From our grass roots research in networking with multiple small and medium businesses (SMBs) throughout southern and middle Ontario, one of the least considered areas of business planning for SMBs is disaster planning.

For the purposes of this article, we consider disaster planning to include the physical, logical and digital management of information; assets and people that are used to gain revenue, support customers and operate a business.

Having grown up in the financial and technology industries where disaster planning was taken very seriously, it befuddles us at Fox Group, as business owners, why most SMBs don’t think about this area. And yet, when we bring up the topic at local chamber events, most people can regale stories of businesses that they know were hit very hard by serious events such as fire, flood, electrical or technology disasters.

Many of the examples shared highlighted that the lack of a disaster plan caused the business to not only have serious long-term financial implications, but in some instances, the businesses ceased to exist.

Physical Disasters

Theft, fires, floods or other natural disasters that either destroy or damage your physical place of business and assets used to conduct business Loss of Electrical power, loss or lack of heat or cooling, access to safe drinking water and use of sewage systems Storage, availability and access to all of the financial records including invoices, statements, account numbers, vendor contact names/numbers, PIN numbers, etc.

Logical/Digital Disasters

Fatal failure of key computing or storage devices (i.e. servers, back up storage units, etc.) Failure or undetected degradation of storage medium of computer archive backups. There are many other considerations to factor in developing your own corporate disaster plan. For the purpose of providing the readers with an alternative perspective….we would like to share an example from a major electrical outage that occurred recently, and how our business kept operating.

At Fox Group, we have installed a gas generator to power the main electrical appliances such as fridge, freezer, stove, etc. as well as our water pump and few key light fixtures (this is for the residential part of Fox Hollow).

In addition, we have electrical power available for our core technology equipment, that being our VoIP phone system, servers, wireless LAN equipment and ability to operate key laptops from anywhere in the Fox Hollow site.

This physical and logical flexibility allows us to quickly relocate to another location if required and was put to the test recently.

We had an electrical storm that lasted longer than our supply of gasoline for the generators. (We had not re-stocked our supplies due to recent price increases) so only had enough time available to do shutdown of servers, phone systems and do real time backup of critical data.

We have an emergency binder in a secure location within the complex which has of all contact numbers that we need in the event of a personal or business disaster.

We were able to check with Hydro One’s contact centre via their IVR response system and were advised that the outage was a critical one, and it was anticipated that power should be restored within the following 12-18 hours. (it was around 8 pm when we found this out).

Our Non-Traditional Off site Disaster Site Plan

We made a call to our local pub in Mount Albert (The Prince Albert Pub & Restaurant, http://www.princealbertpub.com/ ) to see if they were affected by the loss of power. They were as well, but they had just recently installed power generation capabilities for the whole restaurant, and would be able to operate as long as necessary.

We decided to take our lap tops and the rest of our mobile technology kits and head over for a late supper and a brew. We forwarded our phone extensions to our cell phones and knew that we could still receive calls if necessary.

What a surprise we had when we got there! The place was packed with many local business owners being ‘connected’ to the Internet with their laptops complements of the Pub’s new wireless hot spot.

The pub owner Ian Bowie had recently installed the wireless hot spot to offer his regular patrons an alternative place to work. He found that it has been beneficial for business, and decided after the last major power outage that he would invest in power backup systems so that he could provide food, beverages and now wireless Internet access for his ‘regulars’.

<b.What does this mean to SMBs?

A potential offsite for your business does not have to be a business location. It does need to have electrical power, water and sanitation facilities, Internet access and a place to work from.

What did we learn from this adventure?

Having the Hydro account information to get the information was very beneficial. Also, having hard cash available (from the company petty cash box) allowed us to get gasoline even though we couldn’t use technology to pay for it! (the gas pumps worked, but they had no debit/credit payment choices available).

We also learned that we need to stock up on more gasoline, drinking water and clearly communicate to everyone where the emergency lighting is stored. Lastly, we updated our technology documentation to highlight the individual steps required to forward extensions, do complete backups and do proper shutdowns so that anyone visiting or working here could do these actions if required.

Congratulations to Ian at the Prince Albert Pub for being an innovative entrepreneur that provides a technology-friendly environment for us to work from when an emergency, or our thirst demands it!

How about the rest of you….what are your plans, or new service offers?

Roberta Fox is the president of Fox Group Consulting. You can contact her at Roberta.Fox@FOXGROUP.ca or 905.473.3369 x 1001 to discuss this topic further.

Comment: cdnedit@itbusiness.ca

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