Disasters Require Preparing for the Worst
Contingency Work Site Can Be Key
To maintain a physical presence in the event its headquarters near New Orleans is evacuated, APS has set up a smaller facility 30 miles to the north in Mandeville. The home away from home has been outfitted with a redundant system and offsite storage, all of which is linked to the main office via the Internet.
“We can actually operate remotely and provide services and be in touch with all of our employees,” Smith says.
Taking a lead role in APS’ disaster preparedness endeavors is IT Manager Lisa Kramer, who works meticulously to safeguard all company data. APS uses tape for daily and weekly backup, all of which is then backed up daily onto an external hard drive for convenient toting in the event of an evacuation.
“We can carry the drive from place to place and restore it if necessary,” Kramer says. “With a USB connection, we can plug it into any computer and retrieve the data.”
APS continues to partner with Acadiana Security Plus to host its alarm signals via the Internet if ever needed. Despite geographic proximity that effectively makes them competitors, neighborly goodwill trumps all else, says Paul Courts, president of Acadiana.
“You have to be able to put aside competitive differences whenever people are in need,” says Courts, who has a standing relationship with a central station in Shreveport, La., as part of his own disaster recovery plan.
For security contractors that have contingency plans to retreat to a secondary site, here’s one more bullet point to consider: lodging. Hurricane Gustav in 2008 exposed a hole in Smith’s disaster preparedness plan. As the storm’s arrival to the Gulf Coast became imminent, Smith discovered that hotels to the north had been booked solid many days prior. To patch that hole in his preparedness plan, Smith has made provisions with a hotel chain located about 300 miles north in Monroe, La., for future temporary housing needs.
Workers Are Most Valuable Asset
Protecting and restoring data is only part of a recovery mission. Paramount to any company, and by extension its disaster recovery plan, is its employees. Without them, the business’ information is useless. Therefore, two-way communication with workers will be central before, during and after a disaster.
In order to keep staffers informed throughout the year, emergency preparedness information can be i
ncluded in newsletters, company intranets, periodic employee E-mails and other internal correspondence.
All workers will need to know what their individual task may be and be able to execute it for the business to recover as speedily as possible. That means having a plan in place and testing it with some regularity. Companies will want to schedule walk-through drills where response team members actually perform their designated emergency functions.
Any forecast above a Category 3 hurricane and APS’ plan calls for a full evacuation of its staff and moving business operations, if possible, to its secondary location in Mandeville. According to plan, a lesser storm may call for the company to staff two technicians in the main facility around the clock, along with six monitoring operators. Again, preparation is key.
“It’s all about having your people familiar with the circumstances of what is going to happen during an emergency,” Smith says.
No-Brainers Can Save a Business
Possibly the most urgent preparedness tip Smith is quickest to advise concerns insurance. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan prompted him to evaluate every detail about his business — room by room — with an insurance agent. The effort secured him for Katrina’s fury the following year.
“I cannot emphasize it enough — review your insurance,” he says. “If we hadn’t, we would have been in a very bad way.”
Be sure to consult with an agent who understands the unique needs of a security contracting business, Smith says. You’ll want to ensure you carry the right type of coverage. For instance, normal hazard insurance doesn’t cover floods. Also, business interruption insurance, which replaces income lost when a business suffers downtime, should be considered carefully.
Many other disaster preparedness and recovery recommendations may seem like so many no-brainers; however, fail to be prepared at your own peril. For example, is your company outfitted with enough backup generators? Do you test them weekly? Do all your company vehicles carry battery chargers? Do you have sufficient petty cash on hand to purchase staple items such as food and gas?
“It’s about keeping in mind the things that you would need after the disaster,” Smith says. “We are going to have to plan on being in here for four days. We have showers, a kitchen, and we bring in plenty of food and water. It can be pretty chaotic.”
That would include phone numbers. Not just contact numbers for all employees, but vendors and other parties that could be pivotal in getting your main site or an alternative location up and running. For instance, Smith keeps contact information for all of his AT&T reps that would help him reroute phone numbers after a disaster.
Still more tips can be gleaned from the UL Standard 827 outline, which provides fundamental strategies for central stations to continue operating during and after a disaster.
Importantly, don’t ever become complacent about your disaster preparations, Smith admonishes. Preparation and planning must never be considered complete.
“We are better prepared today but I still don’t feel like I’m there yet,” he says. “Quite often we’ll realize something is missing and we have to add another page to the binder.”
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