Disaster Preparedness and You

I'm writing this column from the speakers' lounge at Exchange Connections Europe, which has been a terrific show so far. Nice, France, is a beautiful city, and so far no one has laughed at my attempts to dust off my rusty college French. However, what should have been a perfect trip has been haunted by the ghost of disasters, both past and future.

First, the past. Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. San Francisco and its surrounding area were uniquely vulnerable to this earthquake because of a variety of factors, including prevailing construction methods, soil composition, and the lack of effective firefighting capability. As you probably know, the fault systems that underlie the Bay Area (and their companion faults in the Puget Sound area) are overdue for a major earthquake, and that's worrisome.

Second, I've been reading a scary book, "Fifty Degrees Below Zero," in which science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson describes some of the possible outcomes of abrupt climate change. Those outcomes include destructive weather events that are practically Biblical in scale, along with desperate efforts to mitigate the climate change and retool the economy. Whether or not you agree that global warming is real, the historical record of abrupt climate change--and the lasting aftereffects--is abundantly clear.

These two things have little in common except this: Both point out the need for effective disaster recovery for your Exchange organization, and "effective" in this context implies effective and accurate preparation. As hurricane season approaches, there are lots of nervous folks along the Gulf Coast, in Florida, and along the eastern seaboard of the United States, but they're already preparing. What about your own organization?

I don't have space in this column to list every step you might conceivably take to protect your Exchange organization, but I can point out a few high-value things that you should be sure to include in your planning:

1. Have a bug-out plan. If a disaster hit your business, how would you get away from the area? How would you decide when it was time to go? How would you tell your employees not to come to work? In fact, how would you make the decision to shut down or relocate operations?

2. Keep communicating. How would management and employees communicate until your email service could be reestablished? Who's in charge of establishing and maintaining disaster communications?

3. Grab your gear and go. One of my customers implemented its disaster recovery plan for Hurricane Katrina by shutting down the Exchange server, pulling all the disks from the storage enclosure, and taking them by car to Houston. This was an ingenious and effective solution, given the circumstances. What would you do under similar circumstances?

4. Now is always better than later. It's better to have a fair solution now than a perfect solution later. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should rush out and slap together a disaster-preparedness strategy out of whatever random products and technologies you can find. It does, however, mean that you should push disaster recovery and preparedness planning to the forefront of your list of operational concerns.

It's not possible to anticipate every possible disaster, but you don't have to. The responses to many disasters will be the same; you can make plans based on the expected duration of recovery, the impact of the disaster on your facilities and the surrounding area, and other factors. Even if you don't live in a disaster-prone area (I don't; the biggest threat in northwest Ohio is apparently highway construction), you should still be prepared for things such as structure fires, major traffic accidents (what if a gasoline tanker blew up nearby? That happened at my wedding!), and so on.

The Boy Scouts say "Be prepared," but I like the US Coast Guard's motto better: "Semper Paratus," which is Latin for "always ready."

And a brief follow-up note on my DirectPush experience. From the minute I landed in Nice and turned on my phone, email has been flowing smoothly to me. This has been a real bonus because there's effectively no Internet connectivity at Nice's otherwise excellent convention center. I'm still trying to figure out how to make my ancient Bluetooth headset work reliably with my phone, and there are still a few things I miss about the Treo (notably its 320x320 screen), but overall I'm still delighted with it.

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