Criteria for staffing a disaster recovery site

Who should be staffing your disaster recovery site isn't always clear. Find out what you need to know about staffing your DR site in this Q&A.

Having a disaster recovery (DR) site is an important part of a disaster recovery plan. Whether your DR site is a hot site or a cold site, it's crucial to have one you can use during a disaster to get your IT operations back up and running to prevent downtime in your company. However, how do you go about staffing your disaster recovery site? What types of procedures should your staff follow? And how do staffing requirements differ in hot and cold disaster recovery site environments?

Harvey Betan, an independent business continuity (BC) consultant, discusses what you need to remember when staffing a DR site, and what to do to ensure your recovery site runs smoothly in this Q&A. His answers are also available as an MP3 below.

Listen to the Staffing a Disaster Recovery Site FAQ

Table of contents:

>>  How many people should you have staffing your disaster recovery site?
>>  Do staffing requirements differ in hot site and cold site environments?
>>  What types of procedures should a staff follow before and during a disaster?
>>  When should you hire an outside staff for your disaster recovery site?

 How many people should you have staffing your disaster recovery site? How do you determine that?

Obviously there's no set number. It's going to depend on the emergency. Sometimes you may need additional staff if you have additional shifts that need to be put in or staggered shifts. So there's no real number. You probably would need additional staff when you start up, and less later on, or vice versa depending on what kind of disaster recovery site you have.

 Do staffing requirements differ in hot site and cold site environments? How?

Yes, very much so. A hot site environment means that everything should be set up and your hardware should already be running. But there may be some work needed to ensure the environment is operational; make sure that all of the equipment is talking to each other and is working in the aggregate group.

A cold site is very different because you have set up all your equipment and possibly even build new racks; that may add a lot of time and probably require additional resources. There are a lot of things you need to think about in a cold site environment. You might need to have more staff on hand when you begin building, and that staff doesn't need to be technical. However, you'll need more technical staff as you're getting your environment set up. So there is a big difference between staffing a hot site and a cold site, but there are no clear cut numbers on how many people you need in each type of environment.

 What types of procedures and regulations should a staff at a disaster recovery site follow when preparing for a disaster? What about during a disaster?

What you have to remember is that during a disaster or after an event occurs, there's going to be a lot of pressure to get a lot of things done quickly. You can never really anticipate when a disaster is going to occur. Most people run a disaster recovery test or BC test at 7:00, 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning, but there's no guarantee that you're going to be at your recovery site when a disaster occurs. You may very well have to arrive at a site at 11:00 p.m. after a long day of work, and need to begin to set up the recovery site environment. In that case, you may want to stagger the number of people you may have working at a recovery site.

As for the procedures, the more of your DR plan that you have written down in step-by-step procedures, the easier it will be to follow, especially during the crunch mode of a recovery. And you should have a disaster recovery procedure written so that someone with equal background can follow the steps, because in a disaster situation, you may have a mainframe person setting up the servers because you had to change the staff around a little bit. But if you have written procedures, this task becomes a lot easier.

One more added issue is the time constraints when you're doing a recovery; a lot of things are going on at the same time. You may be tired and stressed out, but if you have things written down step-by-step, it makes things a lot easier to follow and a lot easier to keep your concentration focused.

 When should you hire an outside staff to man your recovery site vs. sending someone internally from your team?

This is going to depend on your recovery site and what staff is available. Also, keep in mind that the person who writes the procedures may not be the person who actually does the operation. You may have to hire an outside staff to assist and supplement your recovery site staff, especially these days when people are running lean and mean.

Whether you are hiring an outside staff or sending someone internally from your team, you need to know which kind of staff you need to bring in. Do you need a senior staff? A low-level staff? This all depends on what you have to get done at the recovery site. Again, if you have the written procedures done, you can bring someone in and hand them a sheet of paper and tell them to follow the procedures. And in order to determine what kind of outside staff you need to supplement your own staff depends on whether or not you have a hot site, a cold site, what you have to rebuild and what your priorities are.

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