Nobody thinks they'll have to deal with a natural disaster--until they suddenly have to deal with a natural disaster.
By now you've seen the video clips of Hurricane Irma tearing through Florida and the southeast portion of the United States--up Florida and extending into Georgia, Alabama, and other surrounding states.
My business, LendingOne, is based in South Florida. And for the past week we have been rushing to implement our disaster plan and get team members moved to safer locations. But because we're a national company, even while looking into the eye of the storm, elements of our business had to remain "business as usual."
Hurricane Irma was a major threat to our state and area where the large majority of our team is located. We started executing our plan on Tuesday of last week, and had the final details ironed out by Wednesday morning--it was a quick turnaround. As a cloud-based company, we didn't have too much to worry about in terms of data loss or anything like that. The real concern was making sure that employees and their families were taken care of, and the transition was handled as smoothly as possible.
Having gone through this experience multiple times now, it got me thinking about how businesses can better prepare themselves for these kinds of situations. Between 2005 and 2013, I was both an investor and CEO supplying disaster recovery contractors with clean-up supplies. Also, today being the 16th anniversary of 9/11, I recently thought back to managing my first company, Interline Brands, through that disaster. Managing our employees fears was my first experience truly dealing with aspects of disaster planning.
Both those experiences paid dividends to me this past week.
1. Consider your employee's livelihoods first.
Especially when you have a small to medium-sized company, you need to think hard about how to navigate the situation in a way that takes care of your people.
As soon as Hurricane Irma started heading our way, I reached out to a furnished apartment company in Philadelphia that would rent by the week. I also connected with co-working spaces to ensure our employees had places to work--in case the power in our area was going to be out for a while. I wanted to have options.
At the same time, we started moving people from South Florida to Atlanta, Charlotte, New Orleans and Philadelphia. We didn't say, "Oh, it's only Wednesday. The storm isn't supposed to hit until Sunday, so you're coming into work." That's not the approach you take in a situation like this. Instead, you say, "Hey, whatever you need." And then we had people from other departments (based in other parts of the country) to help fill in during the transition.
When you're dealing with a natural disaster like this, your number one priority has to be the people within your company, and making sure they're safe.
2. Make sure that any physical assets are duplicated elsewhere.
Like I said, our company is cloud based, so we didn't have too much to worry about in that department.
But it got me thinking about companies that have local servers holding all of their company's data.
It's one of those things you might not have top-of-mind on the day to day, but as soon as your physical location becomes threatened, you're going to have wished you had a redundant server. The good news is, finding a solution to this sort of issue is not difficult in today's day and age. There are plenty of easy and inexpensive solutions.
For example, server mirroring is a process in network management through which an exact replica of a server is continuously created. It's a technique typically used for business continuity, disaster recovery and backup, and duplicating the entire contents of a server on another remote or in-house server allows data to be restored if the primary server fails.
Even if you aren't on a coast, there are plenty of other natural disasters that could happen to your home state. Having your data all stored in one location, no matter where you are, is an unnecessary risk.
3. Have a plan for how you're going to move forward.
Once the storm settles, then what?
Part of preparing for a disaster is knowing how you're going to handle moving forward after the fact. For us, if a customer from Chicago or California calls seeking our loan services, in all honesty, they don't care if we just endured a hurricane. They want their loan closed. So part of our transition plan had to ensure that key people based in South Florida were moved to locations where they could continue operating effectively--making the transition as seamless as possible.
This is the nature of business, so to speak. You have to be ready to handle any obstacle that comes your way. There is huge value in planning ahead of various scenarios so you're not scrambling when a disaster hits. This way, power could be out for days, if not weeks, and your business will be able to continue on uninterrupted.