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How IT Leaders Can Best Plan for Disaster

By Thor Olavsrud, CIO
November 06, 2012 04:50 PM ET

CIO - Hurricane Sandy left devastation in its wake, first pounding the Caribbean and then pummeling the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the U.S. People and businesses are now struggling to get back on their feet. As a CIO or IT leader, you need to ask yourself: Will your organization be prepared for the next disaster?

Do you have a disaster preparedness plan?

Sandy left at least 106 dead in the U.S. and left millions without power. In New York City, many homes and businesses have suffered severe damage, the public transit system remains snarled, utilities are struggling to reconnect services and gasoline is scarce. Damage from the storm is projected to be as much as $50 billion.

Residents--some of whom are now homeless or without power, heat or running water--are trying to find a way forward. Many businesses, too, were not prepared for the magnitude of the storm and are now struggling to get back on their feet. Disruptions in communications, power and transit are conspiring to make it a challenging prospect at best. But with the right planning, says Nicolas Dubus, IT director for Florida-based eTailer, you can overcome these challenges with little or no business disruption when disasters strike in the future.

Dubus learned this lesson the hard way: In 2005, Hurricane Wilma hit Florida like a hammer, flooding much of the southern portion of the state. Wilma was responsible for $20.6 billion of damage in the U.S. ($24.5 billion in 2012 dollars)., with headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, was without power for four days.

Communication Is a Key Issue to Disaster Recovery

"More than power, communication was the issue," Dubus says. "We didn't have Internet. Cell phones weren't working. Regular phone lines weren't working. You couldn't communicate with your vendors."

[Related: How the Cloud Democratizes and Complicates Disaster Recovery]

Wilma was a wakeup call for, a largely IT system-driven business that sells electrical, telecom/datacom/networking, home theater, cable and wire management products. After that experience, it got serious about disaster preparedness.

"Each year, prior to the month of June when hurricane season commences, we review our disaster-prevention procedures to ensure readiness in the event that a tropical storm or a hurricane heads our way," he explains. "But rather than a simple checklist and seasonal preparatory efforts, we review and maintain disaster prevention and recovery plans for all levels of the operation year-round to best assure we're truly prepared."

"Whether you have a small company or a big company, when there's a disaster like Sandy, it's very important to have a plan on paper and review it frequently," he adds. "Now we have a plan and it's documented. We know who's going to do what things and when. We know who's supposed to come here to the building, who's supposed to take care of different things in the building. We even have a blog that is private to the company where the owner is able to post updates and status to the Web."

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