August 26, 2011 – Hurricane Irene is predicted by the Environment News Service to be the largest storm to hit the East Coast in more than 70 years, and threatens large coastal metropolitan centers from North Carolina to Quebec. Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued in North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia and for hospitals in low-lying areas of New York City.

Here's how to prepare your data center or business operations for the event, according to IBM's Business Continuity and Resiliency Services.

"People and businesses are relying on technology now more than ever, which creates an urgent need to protect critical data and keep IT systems up and running when a natural disaster or other unexpected outage occurs," said Rick Ruiz, its general manager. "In these situations, it's clear that those who have moved from the old model of 'experience and react' to a new one of 'anticipate and adjust' will fare much better."

And remember: "The only irreplaceable data and assets are human beings,'' says Brian Nadzan, Chief Development Officer at TradingScreen, the technology supplier.

Following are IBM's tips for disaster preparedness:

Validate your data backup plan. Verify that your data is out of harm's way and/or is accessible to your recovery location. Consider using a cloud service to store key data and allow your organization more flexibility to respond to changing conditions with minimal interruption to the business.

Consider the personal impact of a disaster. A company's most important asset is its people, but the most important asset for people are their families. Consider how you would move them and their families if required, think about providing financial support to your employees during a crisis event, and consider offering counseling to help them deal with the aftermath of the crisis.

Develop various ways to communicate with employees and partners. After personal safety, the next most important element is communication. Communications efforts must be timely, clear and honest, as miscommunication can make a disaster even worse. Consider how you would communicate with your employees, partners, clients, media, industry, and vice versa, what training you have provided, what tools are you using and -- very important -- test the communications plan.

Think about the "domino effect." Years of experience monitoring regional disasters has shown that these events often create other events. For example, a hurricane normally has high winds and heavy rains that can lead to flooding, structural damage, power outage, telecommunication and/or travel disruptions. Plan ahead for the domino effect.

Plan for catastrophic events to last a while. For example, businesses must consider the impact if the duration of the disruption to the facility, network, technology, or people is longer than a period of three days, one week, etc. Companies need to consider their options if their primary environment or key people are not available for more than two weeks.

Think broadly about what your business needs to operate. Each company is part of a supply chain or network. While you may do everything right, if you have a critical partner, supplier, vendor or provider of service, your preparedness is only as good as those other businesses. As part of your disaster recovery plan, ensure everyone upstream and downstream from your business is also prepared.

Other tips, from the Tech Republic archives, for data centers include:

  • Hurricane shields for all windows and doors; upper-floor locations (raised above the parking lot, for example)
  • Pumping equipment, to get rid of excess water
  • Emergency power, from more than one source, including on-site generator(s)
  • Back up data at remote locations, in advance
  • Keep a second data center "warm" throughout the event, ready to take over processing of data

This story originally appeared in Securities Technology Monitor.

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