10 steps to help insulate your technology from natural disasters

With the start of hurricane season right around the corner, it’s a great time to see if your tech is ready for a worst-case scenario. This affects both companies and homeowners, and can pertain to how your data is stored and backed up, how susceptible your hardware is to damage in its current location, and what’s the easiest way to get back to the norm after the storm has passed.

1) Assess your situation and make a plan

Before you can plan what needs to be done, you’ll have to look at your current setup. All of the following questions pertain to hardware, software backups, client information, network setups, and any processes you’ll need to have continue on in the background:

What are the critical components for you to keep your business going?

Which pieces of equipment are irreplaceable?

What would disrupt your business the most if you lost it?

Can you still receive payments for outstanding balances? This is critical if you have downtime, especially if you’re waiting on insurance to pay on a claim.

Do you have a device to receive payments if your register is down? Card readers like the one Square provides is a great option.

Is payroll still being completed? If you handle this yourself and need a portable solution, Quickbooks offers an online version.

What else is cloud-based and what do you need a system for?

For larger businesses, do you need to set up some disaster recovery centers? In cases where you’re not able to replicate your most important information on the cloud, you can have separate servers in cities like San Antonio, Austin, and Houston to access after a disaster.

From there, make a list of:

What you need to back up including client information, operational software and licensing, and any important data that would be detrimental to lose and/or difficult and cumbersome to redownload.

What you need to make sure is insured. We’ll talk about this more in the next section.

What you’ll take with you including your main computer if you can, any laptops or portable devices, backup or external drives, and any servers especially if you only have a handful. You can purchase a portable server rack that you can wheel into a car if needed. You’d have to secure it when it’s on site so that no one steals it, but it gives disaster-prone areas more flexibility in saving their data last minute. If there are items you can’t take with you, encrypting it is vital in case of displacement or looting. We’ll talk more about that under #6.

From an insurance and rebuilding perspective, it’s great to have an inventory list and pictures of equipment that you plan to leave behind and the ones you and employees are instructed to take. And while this may feel like an extensive plan to create, setting it up once and auditing it occasionally (especially at the start of a storm season) will make it more manageable, to help you get back on your feet if something happens and to prep what you can in advance.

2) Check your insurance policies

There are plenty of unknowns that could affect your business from inclement weather, flooding, fire, pests, and theft. You likely already have this covered along with your property insurance, but you need to make sure your policy also covers your equipment in each of these situations. This includes your computers, phones, printers, scanners, fax machines, routers and network equipment, servers, TVs, tablets, and appliances. Your policy may require you to keep an inventory list for filing a claim, so it’s easier to have that on hand ahead of time. And it’s important to know if your policies cover the replacement cash value of your items (100% of what it would cost to replace it) or actual cash value (what it’s currently worth with depreciation and time loss.)

You should also consider loss of income business insurance to cover downtime. A policy like this can cover items like payroll, taxes, mortgage payments, and/or net losses that may add up if you’re out of commission. Some may also cover relocation or advertising fees if you must move to a temporary or new place. Other policies have add-ons like civil authority for evacuation, utility services if they go down due to natural disasters, extra expenses for facilities that are normally open 24/7, and dependent property if you rely on suppliers that might go offline too.

3) Discuss with your team

Once you have a plan in place and know what your insurance will cover, it’s good to discuss it with the team. You can run a mock drill and print out instructions for employees to reference. If you have managers who handle most of the day-to-day work, make sure they know what to take care of themselves and what to delegate out. From there, it’s good to go over it once or twice a year during team meetings.

4) Make sure your data is being properly stored

Especially when you have others saving documents and working with company software, it’s important to make sure it’s being backed up. Imagine finding out six months to a year later that your team didn’t know what to do or ignored protocol. We’ve had this happen to clients and they only found out once they lost it all.

With proper backup software, you can check when the latest versions were saved and if you have multiple iterations. This is important if you need to reference months old information or find out a file is corrupt. You can also schedule periodic system saves in case employees forget to do so. Also try restoring your data from backups regularly so you’re familiar with the process.

5) Set up off-site backups

Natural disasters can hit at any time, from fires to lightning strikes to flooding. This is why backup redundancy is important. Having a copy of your data saved to the cloud can mitigate loss even in some of the worst situations. But you have to make sure that the server hosting the backup through the cloud is in a different city and especially in a different geographic location. Otherwise, their systems may go down when yours do in a major storm system.

6) Encrypt your computers, servers, portable drives, and  backups

As mentioned before, major storms and flooding can cause displacement of equipment, and in some cases lead to stealing and looting. After all of the preparation you’ve done, you don’t want to have your sensitive information stolen from your office or from your car when you’re evacuating. In fact, it’s best practice to have all of your equipment encrypted regardless of inclement weather. Theft, cyber attacks, and ransomware are far more common occurrences and can be hampered by proper encryption and additional security measures. While you may not be able to prevent every scenario, you can put measures in place to protect yourself and your company.

Encryption involves encoding / randomizing your data or drive so that only your password can unlock and decode it. Otherwise, once someone gains physical access to an unencrypted system, the data is wide open. Although many people believe that having a password login secures their files outright, it doesn’t happen until you take the extra step to set up a whole disk, folder, or file-level encryption. This is why two-step authentication, though a great added security measure, isn’t considered encryption either. The good news is that most cloud storage providers automatically encrypt your data. So you can focus on making sure your equipment is secure.

7) Secure your hardware

Securing your hardware is twofold: you want to try to prevent it from falling and also from being stolen. You can do this by mounting items such as TVs to the wall and monitors to a desk. Kensington locks — similar to bike locks — help you keep your hardware secured to furniture. In most looting situations, people will take what they can and get out. Putting some resistance between that can help save your equipment.

And let’s not forget the importance of alarm systems and security cameras in protecting from theft. In the case of a power outage, some systems like the ones Arlo makes can be wireless with a built-in battery.

8) Have a power backup

Speaking of power outages, having an alternative is important for businesses who need to be up and running as soon as possible. Battery backups like UPS’s for hardware and servers can keep a short power outage from shutting down your systems. Surge protectors can protect your equipment from occasional sudden power influxes, but not from lightning strikes or flooding. And in cases where utilities are down, a pre-installed natural gas or mobile propane/diesel generator can keep power going for essential operations.

9) Keep a mobile hotspot handy

In cases where you have to take your work with you when you evacuate, you may need access to the internet. Mobile hotspots can help bridge that gap. They use existing cell phone networks to pull a signal, so you’ll need to be in a place where towers are still working. You can buy ones with monthly plans on data usage.

10) Post-Disaster Plan

Once the storm has passed, it will be important to get the business up and running as soon as possible. It doesn’t hurt to have a checklist ready too. Here’s some information from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help.

You’ll need to do any necessary cleanup, file any insurance claims, rebuy equipment as needed, and restore data from backups or the cloud, along with resuming operations. In the case where your building will need extensive repairs, you’ll need to plan for potential remote work for you and your employees.

Conclusion

While you can’t prevent every bad situation, you can prepare your business for a worst-case scenario. This will allow you and your employees to focus on the most important step during a natural disaster: getting to safety to wait it out.

Some of the steps in this guide can be set up by the business owner or manager. If there’s any that you need help with, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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