Hurricane Harvey was a fierce storm impacting millions of people in the coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana. High winds and extensive flooding caused many deaths and injuries while destroying homes, schools, businesses and numerous other facilities and operations. The storm caused the ordering of mandatory and voluntary evacuations across the region. A disaster declaration approved by the federal government was announced across approximately 18 counties with a total population of approximately seven million people.
Meanwhile, according to the National Hurricane Center, Irma was one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of top five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years.
Hurricane Maria was the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, causing catastrophic damage across the northeastern Caribbean and threatening the mid-Atlantic coastline.
The following is a quick list of preparedness items and questions to consider for your business:
- Create a phone tree for your organization and stay in touch.
- Have a plan and contingencies.
- Where will you go next business morning?
- What do you need to take from your office?
- How will you support your customers, and from where?
- Send out the storm plan to your employees, customers, and partners.
- Include a communications schedule and stick to it.
- Send an update to employees every few hours with what you know and don’t know.
- Send updates to customers with updates that affect them regularly.
- Communicate with suppliers and partners
- Ensure you have what you need to get back to business.
- If your business cannot withstand lengthy downtime, secure a facility further inland
- Ensure employees are able to work remotely.
- Make sure your business data, backups, applications, and server images are stored off-site.
- Your IT professionals should be prepared to restore systems.
- Restoration of IT should be virtual, Cloud-based, and/or at a remote site(s).
- Test backups of crucial servers before the storm hits:
- Check recent backups on all production machines.
- Ensure recent backups were sent successfully to the Cloud for each production machine.
- Verify recent functional screenshots of each production machine to validate your ability to recover.
- Make sure that any site you and your end users go to has power generation, Internet, and cell phone connectivity.
- Take corrective action as soon as possible.
Could a storm of similar magnitude strike in New Jersey?
According to leading environmental scientists, coastal cities in areas experiencing rapid net sea-level rise are most at risk and subject to impacts from tropical storms with relatively high frequency. In our region, this mostly refers to the southeast coastal area. Cities farther north are also vulnerable, though, even if the storms that drive storm surge are not hurricanes. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Hurricane Sandy, which was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. At the time, it was also the second-costliest hurricane in United States history, exceeded only by Hurricane Katrina. It is inevitable that sooner or later New Jersey will again be impacted by another extreme storm. We believe New Jersey, although experienced in dealing with severe weather conditions, remains with significant vulnerabilities to flooding and high winds due to the forces of nature.
We are not in the tropics – is climate change a factor for New Jersey?
Scientific experts indicate Hurricane Harvey and other hurricanes are likely influenced in many ways by climate change. Also, scientists believe New Jersey is subject to climate change factors as well. Sea-level rise creates more water for storm winds to push. Increased water temperatures create more energy and evaporated water for a storm, contributing to increased intensity. Most of the climate change over recent decades is attributable to human actions, increasing the effects of natural variability. Several scientific assessments have concluded that extremes of both rainfall and drought will likely increase in frequency. According to the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, the human-caused climate change can amplify damage considerably. A draft version of a major U.S. government review of climate science indicates there is “medium confidence” that human activities have contributed to the upward trend of hurricane activity in the North Atlantic since the 1970s.
What are special disaster preparedness considerations for medical practices?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office for Civil Rights has stressed the need for medical practitioners (covered entities) to prepare for hurricanes and other natural disasters. Medical practices are challenged to continue operations during and after hurricanes, while still complying with HIPPA rules. Questions were raised during recent hurricanes as to when health information can be shared with patients’ friends and family, the media, and emergency services. During Hurricane Harvey, the Office for Civil Rights issued guidance to covered entities on the HIPAA Privacy Rule and disclosures of patient health information in emergency situations.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule ensures that in emergency situations, healthcare organizations can protect the privacy of patients and still share individually identifiable health information. During emergency situations, the HIPAA Security Rule is not suspended. Covered entities and business associates are required to ensure ePHI remains secured at all times. Covered entities must plan for emergencies and make sure that patient health information can be accessed during and after emergencies. HIPAA Security Rule requirements include contingency plans for data backup, disaster recovery, and emergency operations.
Additional Atlantic Coast Storms
Hurricane Matthew, another storm that occurred earlier this year, was an extremely powerful and deadly tropical cyclone that fortunately went out to sea before finding its way up the coastline to New Jersey. It was the second major hurricane of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, which spans from June 1 to November 30. Approximately a dozen named storms occur along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts each year. Matthew, with heavy rains and strong winds, incurred widespread destruction including millions of power outages, flooding, fires, telecommunications disruptions, and numerous deaths. The hurricane caused several states to declare a state of emergency, along with widespread evacuations. The Matthew storm damages are estimated to be in the $5 billion range in the southeast U.S. alone.
When planning for disaster recovery and business continuity, prepare for the worst
Preparedness for the future involves planning for disaster recovery and business continuity. Every business must prepare for the worst. Decisions need to be made in terms of appropriate on-site and off-site data backup, along with recovery timeframes in order to get your employees and business up-and-running again. Our focus is on continuity of operations. The physical safety of employees during a disaster should always be the first priority, involving consultation with fire safety engineers, complying with building codes, etc.
Regardless of the type of disaster, small/medium businesses must anticipate the risk factors and potential impact. Plans must address continuity associated with technology, people, processes. Additionally, insurance coverage should be adequate to cover expenses associated with physical and other potential damages. The following are a few key items associated with continuity preparedness:
- Maintain continuous off-site backup of data, applications, and server images
- Establish the ability to restore IT operations in the Cloud and/or at an alternative site
- Arrange re-routing of incoming calls to an alternative site and/or employee mobile phones
- Prepare an emergency posting of alerts and storm updates on the company website
- Make arrangements in advance for immediate nearby shared/furnished office space for a temporary operations command center
- Arrange next-day workspace provisioning at another facility and/or on home personal desktops/laptops with appropriate call forwarding
- Plan internal communications for keeping employees updated on resource availability, recovery status, etc.
- Arrange any necessary third-party contracting for shipping/receiving, mail processing, etc.
- General business functions
- Answering phones
- Processing orders
- Issuing invoices
- Signing checks
- Filing reports, including those required by regulatory mandates
- Communications in advance with local/regional customers and suppliers that may be impacted by the storm
- Direct servicing of customers by supply-chain partners, where appropriate
Backup, Recovery and Intelligent Business Continuity Services
powersolution.com provides small and medium-size businesses with Intelligent Business Continuity services, delivering Data Backup and Disaster Recovery solutions that give you the accessibility, security, and affordability you need to ensure your network and data is protected and your organization is ready to face anything – from small accidents to a natural disaster.
We help you define your specific data backup and business continuity needs, provide you with a most efficient solution, and take measures to keep the malicious users out of your business computer network and also use control over your users who exhibit risky computer behavior within your organization.
Through its disaster recovery/business continuity partner, Datto, powersolution.com maintains a Code Red Team during natural disasters that are dedicated to handling critical disaster situations.
As part of its ongoing disaster recovery/business continuity services, powersolution.com will ensure that:
- Servers are tested in the Cloud
- Backup copies are established off-site, out of the threat of the storm
- IT equipment is secured, while hardware inventory is maintained
- Essential data is backed-up and easily accessible for rapid recovery of business operations
Intelligent Business Continuity services from powersolution.com can reduce the total costs of your IT operations, including minimizing costly downtime. We can help you every step of the way to make sure your data is secure, and your business continuity is protected. Call us 201-493-1414 x 311 or Request a Complimentary Consultation – we are here to address your needs.