disaster recovery plan (DRP)

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a documented, structured approach that describes how an organization can quickly resume work after an unplanned incident. A DRP is an essential part of a business continuity plan (BCP). It is applied to the aspects of an organization that depend on a functioning IT infrastructure. A DRP aims to help an organization resolve data loss and recover system functionality so that it can perform in the aftermath of an incident, even if it operates at a minimal level.

The step-by-step plan consists of the precautions to minimize the effects of a disaster so the organization can continue to operate or quickly resume mission-critical functions. Typically, disaster recovery planning involves an analysis of business processes and continuity needs. Before generating a detailed plan, an organization often performs a business impact analysis (BIA) and risk analysis (RA), and it establishes recovery objectives.

As cybercrime and security breaches become more sophisticated, it is important for an organization to define its data recovery and protection strategies. The ability to quickly handle incidents can reduce downtime and minimize both financial and reputational damages. Furthermore, DRPs allow organizations to ensure they meet all compliance requirements, while also providing a clear roadmap to recovery.

Some types of disasters that organizations can plan for include:

  • Application failure
  • Communication failure
  • Data center disaster
  • Building disaster
  • Campus disaster
  • Citywide disaster
  • Regional disaster
  • National disaster
  • Multinational disaster

Recovery plan considerations

A disaster recovery strategy should start at the business level and determine which applications are most important to running the organization. The recovery time objective (RTO) describes the target amount of time a business application can be down, typically measured in hours, minutes or seconds. The recovery point objective (RPO) describes the age of files that must be recovered from backup storage for normal operations to resume.

Recovery strategies define an organization's plans for responding to an incident, while disaster recovery plans describe how the organization should respond. Recovery plans are derived from recovery strategies.

In determining a recovery strategy, organizations should consider such issues as:

  • Budget
  • Insurance coverage
  • Resources -- people and physical facilities
  • Management's position on risks
  • Technology
  • Data
  • Suppliers
  • Compliance requirements

Management approval of recovery strategies is important. All strategies should align with the organization's goals. Once disaster recovery strategies have been developed and approved, they can be translated into disaster recovery plans.

Types of disaster recovery plans

DRPs can be specifically tailored for a given environment. Some environment-specific plans include:

  • Virtualized disaster recovery plan - Virtualization provides opportunities to implement disaster recovery in a more efficient and simpler way. A virtualized environment can spin up new virtual machine (VM) instances within minutes and provide application recovery through high availability. Testing can also be easier to achieve, but the plan must include the ability to validate that applications can be run in disaster recovery mode and returned to normal operations within the RPO and RTO.
  • Network disaster recovery plan - Developing a plan for recovering a network gets more complicated as the complexity of the network increases. It is important to detail the step-by-step recovery procedure, test it properly and keep it updated. Data in this plan will be specific to the network, such as in its performance and networking staff.
  • Cloud disaster recovery plan - Cloud disaster recovery (cloud DR) can range from a file backup in the cloud to a complete replication. Cloud DR can be space, time and cost-efficient, but maintaining the disaster recovery plan requires proper management. The manager must know the location of physical and virtual servers. The plan must address security, which is a common issue in the cloud that can be alleviated through testing.
  • Data center disaster recovery plan - This type of plan focuses exclusively on the data center facility and infrastructure. An operational risk assessment is a key element in data center DRPs. It analyzes key components such as building location, power systems and protection, security, and office space. The plan must address a broad range of possible scenarios.

Scope and objectives of DR planning

A disaster recovery plan can range in scope from basic to comprehensive. Some DRPs can be upward of 100 pages long.

Disaster recovery budgets can vary greatly and fluctuate over time. Organizations can take advantage of free resources, such as online DRP templates. Several organizations, such as the Business Continuity Institute and Disaster Recovery Institute International, also provide free information and online how-to articles.

A disaster recovery plan checklist includes identifying critical IT systems and networks, prioritizing the RTO, and outlining the steps needed to restart, reconfigure and recover systems and networks. The plan should at least minimize any negative effect on business operations. Employees should know basic emergency steps in the event of an unforeseen incident.

Distance is an important, but often overlooked, element of the DRP process. A disaster recovery site that is close to the primary data center may seem ideal -- in terms of cost, convenience, bandwidth and testing -- but outages differ greatly in scope. A severe regional event can destroy the primary data center and its disaster recovery site if the two are located too close together.

How to build a disaster recovery plan

The disaster recovery plan process involves more than simply writing the document. Before writing the DRP, risk analysis and business impact analysis can help determine where to focus resources in the disaster recovery planning process. The BIA identifies the impacts of disruptive events and is the starting point for identifying risk within the context of disaster recovery. It also generates the RTO and RPO. The RA identifies threats and vulnerabilities that could disrupt the operation of systems and processes highlighted in the BIA. The RA assesses the likelihood of a disruptive event and outlines its potential severity.

A DRP checklist should include the following steps:

  • establishing the range or extent of necessary treatment and activity -- the scope of recovery;
  • gathering relevant network infrastructure documents;
  • identifying the most serious threats and vulnerabilities, and the most critical assets;
  • reviewing the history of unplanned incidents and outages, and how they were handled;
  • identifying the current disaster recovery strategies;
  • identifying the incident response team;
  • having management review and approve the DRP;
  • testing the plan;
  • updating the plan; and
  • implementing a DRP audit.

Disaster recovery plans are living documents. Involving employees -- from management to entry-level -- helps to increase the value of the plan.

Elements of a DRP template
A list of the element included in a DRP template

Another component of the DRP is the communication plan. This strategy should detail how both internal and external crisis communication will be handled. Internal communication includes alerts that can be sent using email, overhead building paging systems, voice messages or text messages to mobile devices. Examples of internal communication include instructions to evacuate the building and meet at assembly points, updates on the progress of the situation and notices when it's safe to return to the building.

External communications are even more essential to the business's continuity plan and include instructions on how to notify family members in the case of injury or death; how to inform and update key clients and stakeholders on the status of the disaster; and how to discuss disasters with the media.

Disaster recovery plan template

An organization can begin its DRP with a summary of vital action steps and a list of important contacts, so the most essential information is quickly and easily accessible.

The plan should define the roles and responsibilities of disaster recovery team members and outline the criteria to launch the plan into action. The plan should then specify, in detail, the incident response and recovery activities.

SearchDisasterRecovery's free, downloadable IT disaster recovery template will help facilitate the initiation and completion of an IT DRP.

Other important elements of a disaster recovery plan template include:

  • a statement of intent and disaster recovery policy statement;
  • plan goals;
  • authentication tools, such as passwords;
  • geographical risks and factors;
  • tips for dealing with media;
  • financial and legal information and action steps; and
  • plan history.

Testing your disaster recovery plan

DRPs are substantiated through testing, which identifies deficiencies and provides opportunities to fix problems before a disaster occurs. Testing can offer proof that the plan is effective and hits RPOs and RTOs. Since IT systems and technologies are constantly changing, DR testing also helps ensure a disaster recovery plan is up to date.

Reasons given for not testing DRPs include budget restrictions, resource constraints or a lack of management approval. Disaster recovery testing takes time, resources and planning. It can also be risky if the test involves using live data.

SearchDisasterRecovery's free, downloadable business continuity testing template will help organizations build and execute their disaster recovery tests.

Disaster recovery testing can vary in complexity. In a plan review, a detailed discussion of the DRP looks for missing elements and inconsistencies. In a tabletop test, participants walk through plan activities step by step to demonstrate whether disaster recovery team members know their duties in an emergency. A simulation test uses resources such as recovery sites and backup systems in what is essentially a full-scale test without an actual failover.

Incident management plan vs. disaster recovery plan

An incident management plan (IMP) -- or incident response plan -- should also be incorporated into the disaster recovery plan; together, the two create a comprehensive data protection strategy. The goal of both plans is to minimize the impact of an unexpected incident, recover from it and return the organization to its normal production levels as quickly as possible. However, incident management plans and disaster recovery plans are not the same.

The major difference between an incident management plan and a DRP is their primary objectives. An incident management plan focuses on protecting sensitive data during an event and defines the scope of actions to be taken during the incident, including the specific roles and responsibilities of the incident response team. In contrast, a DRP focuses on defining the recovery objectives and the steps that must be taken to bring the organization back to an operational state after an incident occurs.

This was last updated in January 2020

Continue Reading About disaster recovery plan (DRP)

Dig Deeper on Disaster recovery planning - management