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Spring Journal

Volume 31, Issue 1

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A natural disaster is just that – a disaster. But one redeeming factor about hurricanes is that unlike an earthquake or fire, there is advance notice of the impending onslaught. Although meteorologists cannot pinpoint exactly where or just how powerful a hurricane may be, residents and businesses are at least aware of the potential for complications. These complications range from complete devastation to the less severe – but still significant – power or phone outages. Last summer’s hurricane season was arguably one of the worst in history.
With four major hurricanes in just six weeks, businesses up and down the state of Florida and in neighboring states had to endure hurricanes Jeanne, Ivan, Frances and Charley while still doing their best to maintain business for their employees and customers. While many companies had no choice but to close their doors and lose significant income, those with business continuity systems in place were able to maintain some level of business during the hurricane chaos.

In fact, according to a recent 2004 study by Intelliquest, improving business continuity was ranked by influencers reporting as the third-highest priority for development and spending. With the advantage of advance notice, even if a company has not already put business continuity solutions in place, all is not lost. In fact, there are some affordable solutions that can be deployed in less than 24 hours to ensure business e-mail is maintained to provide reliable emergency notification and escalation.

Emergency Messaging Solutions Keep E-mail Flowing

During the hurricanes, one of the solutions that proved to be most essential for businesses ranging from law firms to investment banks to healthcare and government agencies was an emergency messaging service. These services provided a reliable e-mail back-up system and were often activated in less than 60 seconds to seamlessly handle all incoming and outgoing e-mail for a company’s employees. Even without power or phone service, companies maintain regular communications with the outside world for business purposes or for emergency needs. When the storms had passed and power was restored, the businesses were able to easily transition back to their primary e-mail servers capturing all of the messages that were sent and received during the activation.

One Tampa-based law firm, Holland & Knight, had already purchased, deployed and tested an emergency messaging solution to ensure communications during any potential threat. When news of Hurricane Charley came, the company knew it needed to keep its more than 3,000 partners, lawyers and staff communicating with each other and with clients across all of their different offices – storm or no storm.
The firm had planned wisely and had its emergency messaging solution in place, and it had, in fact, been “real-world” tested just a few weeks earlier due to an unplanned hardware failure in the Miami office.

The night before Hurricane Charley hit the Tampa area, the firm knew the office would be impacted so they activated the emergency messaging service. In less than one minute the lawyers were able to use their Blackberry mobile e-mail devices to keep in contact with clients and other Holland & Knight offices around the globe.

Another organization, the Florida Department of Education (DOE), ensured e-mail continuity for its 1,811 employees during hurricanes Ivan, Jeanne and Frances.

During Hurricane Frances, the state DOE activated its emergency messaging service for all employees – many who had been evacuated to locations outside Florida. The service enabled the employees to send and receive nearly 30,000 e-mail messages during this period, despite a complete loss of power at the department’s data center.

E-mail became critical for coordinating the statewide school closures, as well as the reopening and provisioning of those same schools as emergency shelters.

The DOE also used the emergency messaging system to immediately establish an emergency e-mail hotline to handle thousands of inbound inquiries and distribute outbound status reports to agency staff, school administrators, teachers and parents across the state.

Businesses Rely on Emergency Notification During Crisis

Additionally, several hurricane-ravaged businesses used the latest breed of emergency notification solutions to respond to emergencies with an alert system that could simultaneously deliver important information to a group or groups of people. These new emergency notification solutions empower executives to communicate quickly and reliably in the event of a disaster.

During the wave of Florida hurricanes in 2004, organizations ranging from Blue Cross Blue Shield to T. Rowe Price relied on emergency notification and escalation platforms to notify tens of thousands of employees, partners, and clients on critical updates regarding office closures, evacuation orders and updates to business continuity and resumption plans.

The services work like a “next-generation” call tree. The automated technology powering the system enables fast, accurate and strategic communications delivery that is documented, auditable and repeatable. Individuals on a group list provide the manner in which they would like to be contacted and in what order, including home phones, cell phones, or pagers. If one method does not work, the system automatically attempts contact via an alternative device. The system continues to deliver the message until one of the devices connects and confirmation of delivery is secured.

The Best Plan is to Have a Plan

The hurricane season is over now, but the lessons learned should not be forgotten. The best plan, of course, is to have a plan – a well documented and tested disaster recovery and emergency communications plan. As part of that plan, it is wise to ensure that technology solutions are in place to maintain critical business e-mail for both business communications purposes and emergency communications needs.

As Dorian Cougias, author of the “The Backup Book” describes it, “If you can’t communicate, you can’t recover.”
E-mail has become the de-facto standard for communications – even more preferred than the phone for its range of communication options.
With today’s technology and smart pre-planning, companies are proving that being prepared isn’t just a lot of hot air.


Mark Scully, vice president of product strategy for MessageOne, oversees the breadth of product solutions the company now offers its enterprise customers in the areas of business continuity, disaster recovery and crisis communications. With more than 15 years experience in the business continuity industry, Scully is guiding MessageOne into innovative new product solutions. His e-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He can also be reached at (512) 652-4500.


 


Executive Tips for Hurricane Preparedness


Business executives with operations located within a hurricane impact zone must ensure their organizations are prepared to address both business continuity during the storm’s impact and disaster recovery after the storm’s passing. Additionally, executives need to address the human elements that a major geographical disruption such as a hurricane brings with it. The following are some tips for executives to consider.
People
Anticipate and Aggregate: Widespread geographical disruptions will have countless distractions for your employees. The more time they need to dedicate to meeting personal challenges and locating resources equals less time they have to focus on the continuity and resumption of your business. Each geographic disruption (hurricane, earthquake, wildfire, flood, etc.) will have its own unique set of distractions. To the extent that your firm can anticipate the potential needs of your employees and provide an aggregated resource pool to tap into, you will free up employees to focus on the needs of the business. Examples include establishing alternate group transportation, centralized pickup of essential foodstuffs, etc.
Process
The Final Hour: Some catastrophic regional disruptions, such as hurricanes, provide advance warning. Make sure you look at all the variables that could contribute to the disruption of operations. You may be lulled into believing you have a shutdown window of 96 hours based on projections by the National Weather Service. It is not that these projections are inaccurate – it’s just that there are other variables. The state or county may issue an evacuation order that precedes landfall by 24 hours. Utilities may be rationed to service already impacted areas. Your tactical plan may need some major adjustment – some of which may not be accomplished in the remaining time.
Technology
DR vs. BC: There are specific technology solutions that provide for effective continuity of a process or application and there are specific procedures and services that provide for effective recovery of an application or environment. Both continuity and recovery provisions play a vital role in the ability of your business to withstand (and perhaps even thrive) in the event of a disruption. Don’t neglect either.