Business Impact Analysis: When the systems are up but people don’t show up

Black Forest Fire

On Tuesday, June 10, 2013, I was returning from a business meeting downtown Denver and headed south toward Colorado Springs for my next meeting.  If you have ever traveled the corridor from Denver to Colorado Springs on I25, you know the magnificent views of Pike’s Peak, Rampart Range to the southwest, and the deep, rich, green forest to the East.  This particular day was no different, with the exception of a massive plume of smoke to the South East.  The time was approximately 12:20 pm and the plume of smoke was coming from the wildfire that had started in an area called the Black Forest, El Paso County in Colorado Springs.  I watched as the smoke filled the sky and once I arrived at my office, I checked to see what was the cause of this smoke.  This was alarming, but I was hopeful the firefighters would be able to contain this fire quickly and save the neighborhoods.  The bad news is this fire has raged due to the high winds, low humidity, and dryness this area experiences every year at this time.

Fast forward to Friday morning, June 14th, this fire has consumed nearly 16,000 acres and is only 5% contained.  It has completely destroyed almost 400 homes and has displaced over 40,000 people who have been evacuated from over 14,000 homes.  The mandatory evacuation area is 55 square miles and the firefighters continue the risk of life to put an end to this fire and attempt to save the remaining homes in the area.  Job 1 for these teams is all about saving people’s lives – they have really worked tirelessly over the course of this week to focus on saving people, pets, livestock, and structures.  It has been reported this wildfire is the worst in Colorado’s history, and the fight is not over yet, the winds and the weather play a very big role in the fighting of this fire with wind gusts expected to hit up to 45mph today.  This is a tragedy, this is heartbreaking, this hurts and this is very, very personal.

Business Perspective

As business professionals we are tasked with ensuring there is a business continuance plan in place, we plan for disaster recovery based on a whole list of possible events, we ensure backup of the data is done for fast recovery in the event of loss or corruption.  We often take a perspective focused on the services, the hardware/software, data availability, access to facilities.  Rarely have I had a discussion with DR/BC professionals who consider the “what ifs” around 50% of the company not showing up due to personal disaster.  What happens if your entire IT leadership team is affected by a personal disaster and have been evacuated from their homes?  What should be done?  How should you plan?  What is the responsibility of the business to its employees?  These are questions that need to be asked and answered.  Certainly, the first priority for anyone should be the people, I have said this since I have been in DR/BC – people, people, people.  Fortunately, many Colorado companies are very aware of the risk that exists during this time of the year for wildfires, as a matter of fact, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science says on average 2,500 fires occur in Colorado every year, most are small and are extinguished quickly but others can and do become catastrophic.  As a result, some companies do have relief funds set up for its employees and families who are affected.

Now I don’t want to sound insensitive, because I am not – I live in Colorado, I have friends who have lost homes and have been evacuated – but I do want to look at this from a strategic perspective for the businesses, the bottom line is if the business fails as a result of its people experiencing a personal disaster, the people will be hit with a double whammy.  Personal loss, job loss – the purpose of this blog is to help companies open their eyes to what could happen, and why it should be in the corporate plan.

As Data Protection, DR/BC professionals, it is our job to understand the scope around potential disasters, to understand the geographical tendencies for disaster and to devise contingency plans to continue business operations for the sake of all the employees and especially those who may have been personally affected by a surrounding disaster.

I have lived in the Midwest, West Coast, Mountain States, and have consulted across the country and the world working with companies who are looking to employ new strategies for backup/DR/BC.  Here is a couple of examples of real-life discussions I have had with some customers during the planning stages for DR/BC.

A Tale of Three Cities

Midwest Customer: Two facilities, 10 miles apart “as the crow flies”, wants to use the sites as recovery centers for each other since both are on separate power grids.  Two primary red flags were raised, #1 distance – 10 miles apart in the Midwest of the USA where tornadoes are common did not make for a very smart move and #2, the railroad tracks running right behind the second facility, where hazardous material was known to be transported (based on an inquiry to the railroad).  Both of these concerns were dismissed by the customer and “non-issues”.  Approximately 1 year later, a train derailed carrying HAZMAT approximately 20 miles from the second facility.  Emergency responders evacuated a 50-mile radius, including the entire second facility, people from their homes, etc.

Louisiana: Internet company, unknowingly leased office space on the ‘highest point’ in New Orleans.  During one of the hurricane’s, while other companies were watching backup tapes, disk systems and servers floating in the flooded-out data centers, this company’s physical location survived without an issue because of what they called, “dumb luck”, however, many of its people were without homes, without places to stay which ultimately had a severe effect on the business and customer support.  The company, however, did plan for this, not only helping its employees and families but in the event, its employees had personal disasters and could not come into work by distributing its call centers.

Colorado:  Last year’s Waldo Canyon fire was the worst fire in the history of Colorado until the Black Forest fire (The “Hayman fire” in 2002 was the largest in Colorado’s history, burning over 138,000 acres and 133 homes).  Several people, I worked with at a different company lost their homes, possessions (including pictures, family heirlooms, etc.), pets, livestock, etc.  Corporate relief was established and once again, helped those affected by the devastation and the company was able to move many of the functions to other locations to maintain as smooth a transition as possible for the business.

Closing Thoughts

I do not know the number of businesses affected as a result of its people suffering from such devastation, but it doesn’t take a math major to consider what it would do to a small to medium-sized business.  Preparation is vitally important, making sure your people are safe is, of course, the highest priority for anyone, and your second priority is considering how you are able to maintain the continuity of your business operation so there is a business operation for your people to return to after going through the devastation.  Again, I’m not insensitive, I am very close to this and these types of situations, I am looking at this from a long term planning perspective.

My heart goes out to all of those who have have been affected by this terrible tragedy, let us hope for calmer, cooler weather to assist the firefighters in the work at hand.

Chapa, signing off

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