Easy ways for SMBs to improve their disaster recovery and pandemic plans

It's important not to fall behind on DR and pandemic planning, or your company may be at risk for unnecessary disasters.

These days, disaster recovery (DR) planning is much like getting a flu shot. Everyone knows they should get one, but most avoid it anyway, ignoring their doctor's advice and complaining about the risk of feeling slightly off for days following the shot. But by the time November hits, they're stuck in bed with a fever and regretting their decision not to protect themselves.

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With the flu season in full swing and the rise of the H1N1 virus across the country, it's important for companies to take pandemic planning and disaster recovery planning more seriously. SMBs are especially at risk for serious impact if their company is affected by a pandemic. Already staffed with fewer employees, there is a higher risk for things to go wrong when individuals are out sick.

When asked if the coworkers of his SMB are taking precautions this flu season, Nathan Johnson, manager of IT services at NAI Utah Commercial Real Estate, which consists of 220 employees in six offices throughout Utah, practically laughed out loud.

"I don't think they're really aware of [the impact]," said Johnson. "I think if they feel icky, they say 'I can deal with it' and they come in and maybe spread it around." He was unsure if it was work ethic or a desperate desire to avoid missing work in a tough economy that pushed employees to show up at work coughing and sneezing, but either way, Johnson isn't thrilled.

While many experts cite that disaster recovery planning has been on the rise in the past few years, Jon Toigo, CEO and managing principal of Toigo Partners International LLC, said that lately he's noticed that companies once again are placing DR on the back burner.

"This year I'm afraid that that preparedness level has dropped off again. It's a function partly of a down economy and people trying to prioritize where they're spending their money," said Toigo.

Pandemic planning tips

In order to be fully prepared for pandemics, you must remember two key points: Keep sick employees at home, and have a strong disaster recovery plan in place. First, encourage employees to stay home when they are feeling sick because the H1N1 virus has the potential to spread for an extended period of time after the infected person is symptom-free. Toigo points to an easy and affordable solution for keeping sick employees out of the office.

"Start considering working at home or telecommuting," said Toigo. "There are no shortages of products out there, software and Web based, that will let you operate at home or simply connect via VPN. There are many cases when [employees'] kids are sick or schools are shut down, and you're going to need flexibility."

Despite some careless employees, Johnson's company is taking necessary precautions for this flu season. The company brought healthcare professionals to the office to provide employees with flu shots for the same co-pay they would pay at their doctor's offices. In addition, his office has a VPN for employees to connect to from home if needed.

The second key in preparing for this flu season is making sure your disaster recovery plan is in place and up-to-date. If numerous employees are out sick, do others in the office know how to handle their tasks? Are there written instructions in case anything serious happens and the person who implemented the plan is unreachable?

"This is fairly simple and affordable stuff that you can do to get prepared, particularly for a small business," said Toigo.

Three years ago when Johnson came to NAI Utah Commercial Real Estate, there was no disaster recovery plan in place. Since then, Johnson has implemented a DR plan with a set of detailed, easy-to-follow instructions. His advice to other companies looking to set up their own DR plans is to keep it simple, always test your plan and create instructions that anyone can follow.

Toigo also offered one other critical piece of advice this flu season: "Get the damn flu shot."

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