Many Texas and Louisiana businesses were unprepared for the disaster wrought by Hurricane Harvey, an unprecedented storm that dumped nearly 25 trillion gallons of water in a path of destruction that stretched for more than 300 miles.
The images broadcasted on news outlets and social media of the storm’s enormity are simultaneously breathtaking and heartbreaking. We certainly hope for a safe and expedient recovery for all people in the affected areas.
As businesses in the region work to get back on their feet, we are reminded of how important it is to have a contingency plan in place in the event disaster strikes. No one likes to think about the worst happening, but it’s necessary if you want your business to rebound quickly and effectively.
Here are three things you can do to brace your business for a crisis.
By Industry – In my prior business, we did a lot of work in a variety of industries: insurance, banks, financial institutions, life sciences and manufacturing. We thought we were diversified across five industries. After 9/11, we lost a huge percentage of our business almost overnight because all the financial services companies in the World Trade Center were devastated; they just stopped spending money. Insurance, banks and financial institutions were really one industry: financial. We had almost ignored our businesses in life sciences and manufacturing. All of a sudden, we needed to shift our focus back to those sectors. The hard lesson learned (and one I want you to avoid) is to diversify your portfolio. That way, if one sector gets hit with crisis, you’ll be ok.
By geography – If it’s appropriate for your business, also consider diversifying geographically. Here’s an example: If you’re a business owner in Houston who also has multiple locations outside of the devastated area, right now you might be in a better position to withstand the fallout. If it makes sense for you to expand geographically, do so. If one location is affected, the others can absorb the overflow. You also won’t have all of your eggs in one basket.
Protect Your Systems
It’s much easier today to move your systems to cloud-based servers than it was 15 years ago. Storing information in the cloud gives you the ability to access that information from anywhere in the world, at any time, on any device – which gives you amazing flexibility. So, if you lose power or if your storefront is severely damaged, as long as you have access to get to the internet, you can remotely access your systems.
Also, you want to make sure that you have all of your systems in place because, in a crisis, you need to know in advance how specifically you will communicate with your team about what’s going on, as well as how they will communicate with each other. We use a tool called Slack to keep (and store) all of our internal communications in one place.
According to Heinan Landa, CEO of Optimal Networks (a twenty-five year old company with a track record of keeping business systems up and running without interruption), “For some people, there is comfort in being able to see a server in their own office. Today, however, your server is almost always more secure and reliable in a dedicated hosting facility staffed around the clock with professionals. Cloud computing makes what used to be impossible and costly, now easy and cost-effective. Done properly, you can employ geographic redundancy to cope with serious disasters.”
If you protect your systems, create redundancy and do regular backups, you can be up and running in no time.
Oftentimes, you’ll hear people say, “Yeah, we do regular backups.” But when you ask them if they’ve ever tried to restore from a backup and work from it, the answer is usually no.
A backup is only as good as it works. So, you want to make sure that every six months or so you run a scenario where you’re actually testing to see whether your backup works. Or, if your business has the capability to work remotely, then periodically you should test that your team is able to do so. Don’t wait for an emergency to see whether things are working or not. Do it beforehand.
“Test your disaster recovery plan when it goes in, and test it again annually to ensure that everything is working as designed,” Landa adds.