6 Contingency Planning Lessons Learned from Superstorm Sandy

Jan 07, 2013 10:57 PM  By

Superstorm Sandy had widespread impact across the entire northeast effecting 24 states. It caused bridges, tunnels, trains and airports to be closed for extended periods of time, long term power and internet outages and a gas shortage.

Whether you call it “business continuity,” “contingency planning” or “disaster recovery,” every company needs to revisit their plan for keeping business running smoothly after an event like this which brought with it scenarios that many thought were not probable.

Every merchant and supplier to merchants needs to customize a continuity plan based upon their specific needs. The one thing that all plans must have in common is periodic testing to ensure business runs smoothly when enacted. While it will be stressful during the event itself, coming through successfully will demonstrate to your clients that you are the right partner.

Have a Plan C and Maybe a Plan D
It doesn’t help to have a disaster recovery site in another state if all of the pathways to get there have been cut-off. Even after roadways were re-opened, Sandy created gas shortages that made people think twice about driving long distances. In addition, many found that their alternate locations were also impacted due to the wide reaching storm.

Businesses need to have more than one way to accomplish the same thing. Identify recovery sites both locally as well as further away (typically 300 miles from the office). Where possible, have a list of alternate vendors with established contract pricing and established processes in case your provider(s) is not available.

Prepare for a Range of Interruptions, Not Just the Extreme
Some disaster recovery plans focus exclusively on a catastrophic event that would require a complete start up in a remote location. It is more likely that you will have to deal with lesser events such as power loss; internet outages, etc. that will require the company to stay where it is and find alternate sources for these services locally.

A complete disaster recovery plan should include methods for dealing with partial outages for shorter periods of time. For example, can you create a “hot spot” if you primary internet service provider (ISP) is not available? If you can, are your work stations enabled for wireless connectivity? Purchase a few company laptops and wireless cards.

Speak with your mobile provider as many cell phones have the ability to create a password protected “hot spot” allowing multiple computers to access the internet. Simple preparations like these can keep operations running when Plan A is compromised.

Prepare in the Same Way you Would Personally
Get the basics. A generator is mandatory and many already have them. But how many companies have gasoline reserves, space heaters and extra batteries? Review your plan for your family and determine if any of those preparations also make sense for your business.

Over communicate
A wise mentor once said, there is no such thing as over communication when you are dealing with clients. This is so true and very important during events like Super Storm Sandy. Clients wonder if you are “ok” and if there is any impact to delivery schedules, etc. When many go silent, make this your opportunity to shine.

This takes preparation as traditional modes of communication may not be working for you as well as your clients and vendors. Make sure to have alternate contact information for your employees, clients and vendors such as, the main company phone number, home and cell telephone numbers and an alternate email address. When the power is out, offices close and cell phones work intermittently. Text messaging seems to work at times when other communication is faulty.

Send a mass email or text to communicate status and non-confidential information. Post messages on your website home page, social media (twitter, Facebook). Don’t let internal communication slip. Conduct daily meetings with the team to touch base, set priorities and address the latest challenges.

Get Things Done Ahead of Schedule
It is better to deliver early than not to deliver at all. Most weather events have warnings allowing people to plan ahead both professionally and personally. Take advantage of any lead time by expediting production and working ahead of schedule to reduce the number of open items, projects, etc. that could be potentially impacted by an event to “buy time.”

Don’t Let your Guard Down on Security, Policies and Procedures
Make sure that alternate arrangements and plans for execution comply with the company security policy. As other personnel “jump in” to lend a hand, make sure they are aware of protocols for the services they are performing on behalf of others. This involves cross-training staff well ahead of any event as time will be of the essence when you are in reaction mode.

Elisa Berger, Ph.D. is Principal/EVP at Cross Country Computer, a provider of data management services.