Winter storms prove a point: Preparedness is critical

Strategies for business survival in winter weather

By Mark HoffmannKENOSHA.COM

A leader in the IT industry for nearly three decades, Hoffmann has helped small and large businesses take advantage of technology to better serve their customers and employees. Hoffmann is owner of CMIT Solutions of SE Wisconsin.

Severe winter weather has swept through North America several times over the last few weeks. High winds, heavy rainfall, and subzero temperatures have affected nearly every corner of the United States and Canada, while certain areas have had to deal with deadly tornados, devastating floods, and dangerous blizzards.

Along with these severe storms come the usual disruptions: downed power lines, blocked roads, power outages, and Internet disruptions. Depending on the scale of impact, these challenges can be predictable or shocking. But the best way to survive them is through better preparedness—at home and work, in our personal and business lives. After all, “weatherproofing” isn’t just a concept tied to construction or infrastructure. It applies to businesses, systems, and information, too—and winter storms of this magnitude illustrate the need for proactive disaster preparedness, business continuity, and cybersecurity planning.

Consider these two winter weather scenarios.

First, a business along the Southeast coast that has experience dealing with hurricanes decided last year to install a generator. Now, the business can withstand extended power outages and keep computers running no matter what. But after a winter ice storm knocks down trees and telephone lines, roads are blocked and employees can’t make it to work safely. Without a remote work plan, the company will suffer

.Second, a business in a midsize Midwest city has mastered the art of hybrid connectivity, empowering employees to work from home or the road, no matter the weather. But after a recent hard drive failure, data backup and synchronization remains spotty. Employees logging in to cloud-based servers can’t find the most recent versions of their files, forcing them to duplicate work and create a couple of critical documents from scratch. Without a well-managed cloud, the company will suffer.

Readiness requires a multi-layered approach.

Comprehensive disaster preparedness combines several different tactics into an overall suit of protection. Business continuity and system virtualization spell out the specific steps required to work in alternate locations. Meanwhile, reliable data backup pairs up with collaborative sync and share tools to give everyone access to the information they need. Since weather-related disasters continue to increase—and nearly half of all businesses impacted by a disaster never reopen their doors—CMIT Solutions has compiled the following tips to help businesses across North America survive and thrive:

  • Preparedness must take precedence before disaster strikes. Many businesses make the mistake of ignoring disaster preparedness until after the worst occurs. But think of comprehensive preparedness more like an in-depth fire drill: an exercise that walks you through every step of how to in advance of a disaster.
  • Make sure comprehensive data backups are in place. Regardless of the season or its accompanying weather threat, your business information should be backed up regularly, remotely, and redundantly. It’s important to have detailed backups located both on-site and off-site to accommodate different needs. The vast majority of business backups are only performed on-site, though—often on physical hard drives located directly next to the computers they’re backing up. If floods, fires, or theft affect your business, those backups often can’t be saved. With automatic backups stored in a combination of physical and cloud locations, you can be confident that your data is always available if you need to access it.
  • Run tests to practice recovering that information. Maintaining reliable access to your data backups is just as important as creating them. At CMIT Solutions, our data backup plans include robust data recovery procedures that can be tested in advance for ease and efficiency. Data recovery allows affected businesses to retrieve their information as quickly as possible, empowering a return to day-to-day business operations. Good data backup can also be a lifesaver in case of human error or cyberattack.
  • Business continuity is a must for businesses of all sizes. According to FEMA, 20% of small businesses spend zero time maintaining their business continuity plan—while 20% of larger companies devote more than 10 days a month to such plans. Defined as an organization’s ability to make sure core business functions are not severely impacted by an unplanned incident that takes critical systems offline, business continuity outlines a coordinated plan for companies to survive after a disaster strikes. A detailed checklist will outline short- and long-term steps needed to withstand problems that could last for days (in the case of power outages), weeks (in the case of floods or physical damage to an office), or even months and years (in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • Understand how virtualization works for critical computer systems. It might sound complicated, but disaster recovery should also include rules for rapid virtualization. This process outlines which computers can be virtually booted up to reinstate and rebuild compromised data—and which users have the right access to instigate the necessary recovery process. Mission-critical machines can be designated as failsafe options in the case of physical damage to your office or its existing systems. A secure laptop or tablet stored at the home of a key employee can also be designated as a backup option. The important thing is to test your virtualization process often. You don’t want to wait to find out whether it actually works in the wake of a disaster, and you want to know exactly how long it takes to perform a full restore of your data.
  • Empower your employees to help with disaster response. Automated technology processes can be predictable. Our human response to disasters cannot. Everyone can keep a good emergency kit with warm clothes, flashlights, water, food, batteries, and simple tools in their home or car. But not everyone can keep a level head when trouble strikes. But if you outline the steps that your employees will take in the face of a disaster—and practice those steps at least a few times a year—everyone will be better equipped to resume their day-to-day duties in the face of the worst winter storm.

Depending on location and industry, some businesses stand to suffer more from natural disasters and winter storms. Other businesses have to worry more about data breaches, ransomware, and cyberattacks. No matter what threats affect your company, CMIT Solutions can help you prepare for them. Our North America-wide network takes a proactive approach to cybersecurity and disaster preparedness. With around-the-clock monitoring and maintenance, strong data backup procedures, and practical incident response plans, we help our clients survive hurricanes, floods, wildfires, blizzards, power outages, and other day-to-day disasters.