One amazing thing about the Internet is how much information it makes available for free. The Internet also makes it easy to share worthwhile information with others. Talk about the free flow of information.

This free flow of information becomes something that we all have come to count on. So recent NOAA warnings about a potentially active hurricane season should resonate with everyone in the mission-critical industry.

In that light, I'd like to share seven tips in hurricane preparedness prepared by Sungard Availability Services.


Help people be personally prepared. The more comfortable and prepared personnel are with their family situations during an emergency, the more likely they will be ready to help the business. Provide coaching to your staff on the importance of having (i) emergency “go bags” (including water, food, clothing, medication, lighting and more), (ii) pre-planned locations for a family to meet in the event of an evacuation, and (iii) multi-layered communications methods in case wired and wireless voice communications are interrupted.

Make your people the top priority. The physical safety and psychological well-being of employees need to be the first priority in an organization’s business continuity planning. This preparedness includes clearly defining what precautions a business should take to move personnel out of harm’s way, what situations would signify the need to close down, and what people should do – and where they should go – if the business is disrupted. It also involves having crisis communications capabilities in place to help ensure a means to inform staff about the situation and their responsibilities, and to enable coordination of the organization’s responses to the event.

Take steps to have people ready to respond. Organizational readiness requires staff be trained and ready to go in response to an incident. Companies need to focus on communications, awareness and training of the response team, including conducting scenario-based exercises to help staff become effective and efficient in their roles. Organizations should be so well prepared they only need a business continuity plan for reference or as a guide, not as the playbook, when responding to and recovering from a hurricane.

Reexamine and realign responsibilities. People and their roles change often in organizations. Review the staffing assumptions made during business continuity planning to determine if they are still valid. For example, at a company that has experienced downsizing, individuals may have taken on additional duties, which could hinder their abilities to assume still more responsibility called for in a disaster response plan.

Review your vendor list. Query your vendors about their business continuity plans to learn their strengths and vulnerabilities. Your preparedness depends on their preparedness. Understand whether the people and services you rely on will be there when you need them. Look at the geographic diversity of your service providers to see if they have resources available outside an impacted area.

Don’t wait – pre-stage what you can. If weather reports predict your organization is highly probable to be impacted by a hurricane, don’t wait until the last 24 hours to take action. To minimize risk, proactively move personnel whose business functions can be suspended out of harm’s way, shift work processes to alternate locations if possible, and move assets that can be relocated so they are already in place in a secondary location when the event occurs. Proactive steps and pre-positioning people and other resources can limit your vulnerabilities.

Don’t forget the customers you support. If you are an organization that engages customers in transactional exchanges, review your customer management plan. Examine how your company will communicate its readiness, address potential concerns and constraints that could affect the customer relationship, and prepare for possible impacts of downtime or lost customer transactions. For example, your plan should address how you will respond to missing customer orders, and how you will communicate and work with customers to identify and address these issues. This is particularly important if your organization serves customers on a national or global basis where they won’t be directly impacted by a hurricane and may not have anticipated an impact in dealing with your company.

NOAA doesn't always get its storm forecasts right. In fact, despite a similar forecast last year's hurricane season produced only "three storms and no storm produced hurricane force winds over the United States," according to Eaton's 2009 Blackout Tracker. As a result, hurricanes did not cause much mission critical down time. Even so, weather/falling trees caused more than twice as many recorded outages in 2009 as the next most common cause, except unknown. 

Sungard's hurricane recommendations are valid for a wide range of situation. And I would be remiss if I don't point you to the Blackout Tracker and Eaton's web page, where they provide several white papers on how to protect a data center from power problems.