Tips for building a work area recovery center

Learn how to determine if your business needs a work area recovery center and check out some options for building short-term and long-term solutions.

Work area recovery centers are facilities where employees can work in the aftermath of an emergency that renders their normal work space inaccessible or unusable. Including work area recovery as part of business continuity and disaster recovery plans is important because it will ensure that your employees and your technology infrastructure can be recovered following an event.

Work area recovery centers differ from traditional IT hot and cold recovery sites in that they focus primarily on people and getting them back to work. It is not uncommon for hot/cold site firms to have work areas preconfigured for staff to use in an emergency. 

Assuming that an organization’s primary work area, such as an office building, is suddenly unavailable or destroyed, good business continuity planning should provide for recovery of employee work areas so that normal or near-normal business operations can resume as soon as possible.

Work area recovery center options

Be sure to examine your work area recovery options in light of the results of business impact analyses (BIA) and recovery time objectives (RTO). If your recovery time frame is short, you may need a pre-configured solution, such as those listed in Table 1. If the time frame is longer, e.g., one week, consider the options listed in Table 2.

Many other issues must also be addressed in your work area recovery planning, such as the distance to the work area recovery center, driving conditions that may impede travel (e.g., washed-out bridges or roadways), and weather conditions (e.g., hurricanes, ice storms and tornadoes).

Table 1 – Short-Term Work Area Recovery Center Options

Work Area Option

Issues

Conference rooms in company buildings Could be used in situations where normal work areas may be damaged or closed off, forcing staff to temporarily work elsewhere. May be limited due to space; may need to be pre-wired with power and network outlets; may be unusable if the entire building or campus is in a disaster zone.
Available and pre-configured work area space in company offices Can be expensive to build and configure; could be political issues over the space sitting idle; may have other departments lobbying to use the space; good for short-turnaround recoveries, e.g., 24 hours or less.
Available and pre-configured office space in company branch/regional offices Could be used for short-turnaround situations if the space is already pre-configured and operational; turnaround 24-48 hours.
Configured work area space in hot site Can be expensive; may need to pay extra for dedicated space as opposed to shared space; may be a waiting line in a major disaster that affects many organizations, especially if you have shared space only; good for short-turnaround recoveries, e.g., 24-48 hours.
Configured work area space from specialty vendors Can be expensive as with hot site firms; may need to pay extra for dedicated space as opposed to shared space; may be a waiting line in a major disaster that affects many organizations, especially if you have shared space only; good for short-turnaround recoveries.
Working from home Could be network traffic issues if many users are trying to gain access to company intranet; additional ports into intranet need to be configured in advance; good short-term recovery strategy.

Table 2 – Longer-Term Work Area Recovery Center Options

Empty or swing space in company HQ building May take too much time ordering equipment, furniture, infrastructure for short-turnaround recoveries; workable for longer-term recoveries, e.g., one week or more.
Empty space in non-company office buildings May take too much time ordering equipment, furniture, infrastructure for short-turnaround recoveries; good for longer-term recoveries, e.g., one week; could take time completing paperwork, etc.
Available work area space in cold site Probably less expensive than work area space in hot sites, but will take longer to outfit for employees; may need to pay extra for dedicated space as opposed to shared space; may be a waiting line in a major disaster that affects many organizations, especially if you have shared space only; good for moderate-turnaround recoveries, e.g., one week.
Hotels Need to be pre-arranged; rooms may be unavailable if house is full; conference rooms could be used, but need to be configured for technology, e.g., power, network access, Internet access.

Configuring a work area recovery center

If you decide to obtain work area recovery services from a third party, you have three options:

  • Dedicated spaces – These are designated for your company and should not be offered to another firm
  • Shared spaces – These are shared with one or more firms; you then face a first-come, first-served situation when attempting to occupy the space
  • Mobile spaces – If the work area firm has multiple locations, you may be able to use work spaces at other sites, but that availability will be subject to the terms of your contract

You also need to ensure that the third-party firm can accommodate your unique work area configuration requirements.

If you decide to build your own work area recovery facilities – regardless of where they are located – you have a number of issues to address, including locating the space, determining its availability, making the business case for converting the space to a recovery facility and funding the construction-related work for the site.

Components you should include in a work area recovery center include the normal items for a standard desktop configuration, plus the following:

  • Secure building access via proximity cards, keypads, fingerprint scanners, etc.
  • Closed-circuit security cameras at entry/exit areas, within work areas
  • Motion detectors at entry/exit areas
  • Sufficient HVAC for office area
  • Conference room with PC projector and screen
  • Satellite or cable TV access, radios (battery and hand crank)
  • Copiers (black and white, color)
  • Document scanners and shredders
  • Fax machines (optionally on a cart for access by staff)
  • Printers (optionally on a cart for access by staff)
  • Electronic whiteboards
  • Eating space and/or kitchen areas equipped with microwave ovens, coffee makers, refrigerators, supplies
  • Safes for storage of keys, discs, BC/DR plans, etc.
  • Sleeping areas with showers
  • Parking area
  • Proximity to public transportation

Tips for planning a work area recovery center

We’ve compiled a list of work area recovery center tips (in checklist format) to help you plan. 

Summary

Building a work area recovery center is a complex and potentially expensive proposition. The number of available options – ranging from company-owned space to external contracted space – means that workplace recovery strategies can now be implemented to meet both the needs of an organization and its employees, and can adapt to rapidly changing situations associated with disasters.

About this author: Paul Kirvan, CISA, FBCVI, CBCP, has more than 20 years experience in business continuity management as a consultant, author and educator. He has been directly involved with dozens of IT/telecom consulting and audit engagements ranging from governance program development, program exercising, execution and maintenance, and RFP preparation and response. Kirvan currently works as an independent business continuity consultant/auditor and is the secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA chapter. He can be reached at pkirvan@msn.com.

This was first published in October 2011

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