Disaster Recovery Is Not Survival Mode

When Hurricane Harvey was announced, I starting thinking about disaster recovery, business continuity, and survival. The latter is not where you want to be with your business when it comes to natural disasters. Past disasters have shown that we are in need of better planning, not just for our businesses, but also for our employees, principals, and others in the community. If a disaster puts you in survival mode, then there was a failure to plan, or the plans did not survive the first battle.

That is the crux. As Moltke the Elder expressed, no plan survives contact with the enemy. In this case, the weather is the enemy. We knew the disaster was heading our way, and we knew that it would impact many places, but did we expect the impact to be as far-reaching as it has been so far? Were people in Chicago safe? Probably, but there were issues for those who were flying. Many flights over the weekend, starting on late Friday, experienced cancellations, delays, and other problems.

This could impact your employees’ ability to get to work, get to a customer, or get to a conference. For those of us who live near Texas or regularly fly through Dallas, the first news of the storm had us thinking about our next flights. Would the flight over the weekend even happen?

Many others had the same thoughts. I spoke with a reservations specialist for a major airline, and their week leading up to Harvey’s landfall, particularly the day before, was spent working with customers to change their travel. Pretty much any travel into or out of several major airports got shifted to earlier bookings or was rerouted to avoid the southwest of the United States.

When they issued their own warnings, airlines had not only their own systems in mind but also potential bad press from delays and other travel-related issues. These warnings went to customers via the airline’s applications, email, and in some cases, personal phone calls. This was a welcome change and very easy to implement in this day of the Internet of Things, Connected Applications, and People. Warnings were issued not just by the governments (local, state, and federal) but also via the airlines.

Failure to heed those warnings will impact your business, your employees, and their families. We move from following a plan to survival mode. Survival mode is not planning: it is reacting. In a disaster, you want to follow a plan, not react. The plan should be designed to limit the available options from which to choose when something unexpected happens, not to alleviate all unexpected occurrences. That is not going to be possible.

If we limit our menu of options, we are following our plan. There is no panic and no survival mode. The airlines have learned this from previous disasters, so they now provide a limited set of options for their flyers, including offering things like the ability to change bookings for no fee. This is a quite convincing menu of options for their customers. Businesses that do not have and follow a plan start to react and enter survival mode. That is the land of high stress.

Does your disaster recovery plan handle not just the technology, but also the people? Is it too manual? Do your people enter survival mode? Does it look at the impact of other disasters that seem to be outside your area?

There is a new form of software coming, which has been announced by many companies, to help you answer these questions. Unfortunately, it is not here yet. This means you have to answer many of these questions yourself, learning from your own experience and the experiences of others.