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Are Private-Sector Organizations Responsible for Failing to Plan for Natural Disasters? (Part 2 of 3)

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In part 1 of this series, Leo A. Wrobel and Sharon M. Wrobel pointed out that, as business needs change and technologies arise to fill those needs, contingency planners must adopt those new technologies - or be held responsible for failure to do so. In part 2, they consider how these issues affect your role in emergency planning for your organization.
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Part 1 of this series asked whether the commercial contingency planner must take a proactive role in planning for the possibility of a natural disaster. We proffered the observation that when a technology for backup and recovery of a given business system becomes accepted, ubiquitous, and affordable, it's the responsibility of the serious contingency planner to adopt it.

Let's return now to the central question: Are private sector planners responsible for planning against natural disasters? When set in this context, we believe that the answer is an unequivocal yes. For example, commercial organizations determine where to locate their facilities. If the chosen location is on a seismic fault, oceanfront, floodplain, or other risky area, recovery plans must address this fact.

The Contingency Planner's Job: Get Ready for Anything

Today, the technology for predicting the frequency and intensity of virtually any kind of threat to critical infrastructure is both available and affordable. You just have to know where to look for it and how to interpret it. Critical infrastructure (loosely defined as electrical power, water supplies, fuel distribution, and so on) affects any commercial enterprise. Therefore, the responsibility for having a recovery plan for loss of any of these components rests, at least in part, with the contingency planner.

Consider the possible effects of natural disasters on communications:

  • During Hurricane Katrina, some 34 central telephone offices in southern Louisiana were under water.
  • If your U.S.-based or UK-based organization has call centers in India, you are no doubt highly dependent on undersea telephone cables. These cables are vulnerable to seismic events, acts of war, or deliberate sabotage.

Many companies already consider how to react to seismic events. For example, we know of a significant number of banks and financial services companies in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas that sit on geologically active real estate. These companies have invested heavily in technologies such as point-in-time recovery systems that back up all data in real-time to other remote locations. Such systems will soon become more the norm than the exception, and will become more affordable as the cost of telecom and storage technologies continues to fall. However, some resources allow for predictive analysis of these events in order to make your company even better prepared. We'll discuss those resources later in this article and in part 3 of this series.

In a historical context, large-scale point-in-time data recovery (a.k.a. online vaulting or televaulting) was totally cost-prohibitive from both a telecom capacity and storage technology standpoint for many years after the need for such technologies was identified. Today, they have become so ubiquitous and affordable that an organization in California that doesn't use such technologies might be considered negligent for its failure to do so. The same can be said for technologies that predict natural disasters, which today are becoming mature and affordable.

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