Businesses urged to test disaster plans

A disaster preparation and recovery
workshop presented Wednesday at the Marriott Beach Resort by a leading business
continuity firm urged the participants to test their disaster plans.

The workshop, which was hosted by
TeleCayman and presented by Sungard Availability Services, took participants through
an interactive mock disaster incident management exercise, specifically the approach
of a future cyclone called Hurricane Fiona.

Sungard presenter Robert DiLossi
touched early on a point that became a theme in the exercise with relation to
disaster preparation and recovery plans.

“Test those plans,” he said. “You
can plan every day, but unless you test the plan, you’re not going to know if
it works or not.”

Mr. DiLossi suggested businesses
engage local agencies like fire, police, emergency medical services and the
like when they test their disaster plans.

“They may say ‘yes’, you can do
that, or ‘no’ you can’t,” he said, referring to specific parts of a plan.

Mr. DiLossi said testing a disaster
plan would allow companies to determine what was wrong with it.

“When you do your testing, you’re
going to have issues,” he said. “That’s OK – fix it then, rather than during a

Because businesses can never be
sure when a disaster will strike and which staff members might be away at the
time, Mr. DiLossi advised companies to rotate their technical staff when
conducting disaster recovery plan tests.

One common error made in many
disaster plans is that they often fail to allow for extended recovery periods,
something Mr. DiLossi said was sometimes needed for major disasters.

The workshop was built around a
fictitious business called Sun Island Bank and participants were split into
groups representing the bank’s various departments, including banking, IT,
human resources, data centre operation and others. Participants were asked to
think about what actions their assigned department would have to do with Hurricane
Fiona approaching and how they would respond to specific challenges, like power
outages, a key person being away on maternity leave and customer concerns.

Sungard presenter Jim MacMicking
said people would be surprised to know his company receives about one disaster
alert a day and that it was actually engaged, on average, in on disaster
recovery project every week.

“Disasters occur all of the time to
every kind of business imaginable,” he said. 

Although people normally associate
disasters with things like hurricanes and earthquakes, Mr. MacMicking said
hardware failure was the most common disaster.

He stressed the need to properly
backup all of a company’s data.

“Information is only as good as
what we back up,” he said. “Of the companies that suffer a catastrophic data
loss, 43 per cent will never reopen their doors.”

Many businesses that suffer a
catastrophic data loss and manage to reopen go out of business within two years
or become an easy target for a takeover, he said.

“The only thing you cannot get back
after a disaster occurs in your data.”

Mr. MacMicking said voice recovery
was the second most important thing to recover quickly after a disaster because
proactively talking to customers was an effective way of reassuring them everything
would be all right.

Noting that a hurricane or tropical
storm hits or brushes the Cayman Islands every 2.17 years, Mr. MacMicking said
companies here needed to be prepared because statistically there was a 100 per
cent chance the Cayman Islands would be impacted by a tropical cyclone within
five years.

He stressed the importance of planning
to take care of staff members.

 “Make sure people are willing to respond and
you haven’t just assumed they will,” he said, adding that plans sometimes also
have to be extended to staff members’ families and even their pets.

“Never take people out of the

He urged companies to learn from
what had already happened to other people and to update their disaster recovery
plans constantly.

The workshop participants came up with
many imaginative solutions during the session – one which suggested using
trained crocodiles as a security measure ­– but the purpose of the exercise
wasn’t so much getting all the solutions right as it was having the
participants think about everything that must be considered in a disaster plan.

Mr. MacMicking warned the
participants about making too many assumptions.

“It seems like we took a trip to
Disney World with some of our assumptions,” he said.  “Assumptions are probably an area of exposure
for you organisation, or for a vendor you depend on.”


Participants at Tele-Cayman’s 2010 Disaster Preparation and Recovery Workshop at the Marriott Resort consider how the fictional Sun Island Bank should prepare for the approaching Hurricane Fiona.
Photo: Alan Markoff