I am the director for strategic technology and the disaster recovery coordinator for CNL Financial Group in Orlando. CNL is a leading private investment management and commercial real estate company providing global real estate and alternative investment opportunities.

I am also the past president of SIM Central Florida (a professional network of senior-level IT leaders) and president of Ten Thousand Villages in Winter Park (a nonprofit retailer selling fair-trade crafts and housewares from developing nations). So I can offer many different perspectives on IRMA and the impacts.

For CNL, the impact of Hurricane Irma has been minimal. We had already moved a lot of technology to the cloud. The office was closed on Monday and reopened on Tuesday. For CNL associates, many are still without water and power, but services to their homes is steadily being restored.

For Ten Thousand Villages, the store was closed Saturday through Monday. We hoped to open today [Tuesday], but that area is without power. Every day the store is closed is very concerning. Our revenue is impacted – and we are struggling just like every other brick-and-mortar retail establishment.

Contingency planning and disaster recovery

Previous hurricanes and talking to my SIM community in Central Florida have taught me to be prepared.

At CNL, in April we dusted off the Business Recovery Plan (BRP) and incorporated our new property manager’s Emergency Procedures Plan. As part of that we took the following steps:

In early June:

  • DR technology test (failed over to our Atlanta disaster recovery site).
  • Scripted three disaster recovery scenarios to discuss technology needs and business needs to continue critical business processes (no access to building and power; no power and data center down) .
  • Redistributed the updated BRP to the leadership team and Business Recovery Coordinators (BRCs).
  • Tested emergency mass notification communication tool.

In late August we met with BRCs to discuss disaster recovery scenarios and set expectations about technology needs and impacts.

Once we knew we were in IRMA’s path:

  • We established a HI team (Hurricane IRMA). Members included Corporate Communication, Human Capital, SVP Information Technology, COO and Disaster Recovery Coordinator.
  • HI team met daily starting Monday the week before IRMA hit.
  • Prepared important communication for associates.
  • Prepared emergency messaging phone scripts.
  • Provided a BRC preparedness checklist (call tree, associate and key vendor numbers, emergency hotline number, etc.).
  • Contacted property manager to confirm back-up generator was available and had fuel for three days.
  • Distributed ten satellite phones to DR essential personnel.

After the storm we did the following:

  • Leadership team used calling trees to assess if anyone needed assistance.
  • HI team conference call Monday 2PM to discuss plans for Tuesday.
  • We will conduct a ‘Project Review’ to continuously improve.

At Ten Thousand Villages I met with the store manager five days out. We have an Emergency Procedures Plan and we discussed actions to secure the store and prepare for the storm.

Impact of Irma on customers

From an IT perspective, the impact on CNL customers has been very minimal. Systems were never shut down. Scheduled jobs for business processing ran, data was consumed and reports were developed.

At Ten Thousand Villages, our customers are impacted as the store is closed. We don’t have power to run the registers or the server.

Impact of Irma on the broader community

The hurricane definitely heightens awareness of how dependent we have become on technology. I never lost power. I could see the storm’s path and knew when the bad hurricane bands were going to hit. My friends who had no power, TV or Internet wanted me to tell them where the storm was.

My family (located outside of Florida) used IM to check on me before, during and after the storm. IT used IM for the CNL associate calling trees (instead of phone calls). Emails were sent to the SIM board members asking if everyone was OK.

I prepared dinner for my sister’s family last night because they had no power. It struck me that their biggest concern was recharging their technology -- they walked into my kitchen holding their devices with umbilical chargers dangling, looking for a plug.

Unless you gave a generator, when power is lost, so is technology. Traffic lights, gas pumps, grocery stores, we all need power to run our businesses today.

Lessons learned and advice

The most important advice I can give is to be prepared. Make sure disaster recovery planning is an annual exercise because in one year, you’ve probably replaced some of your technology, people and processes. The team needs to revisit, test and discuss the results.

I can’t wait for our next SIM board meeting and SIM monthly chapter meeting. I’ve seen pictures of their yards before and after cleanup, trees on houses, etc. I want to listen to how and what their companies did – before, during and after the storm.

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