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The Japanese earthquake and resulting tsunami was a horrible event—the enormous loss of life and the widespread devastation should remind us all about how temporal our earthly existence really is and how the direction of our life can turn on a dime. It should also remind us of our many blessings and our moral obligations to help others when they’re in need.

From an IT and a business perspective, the tragedy in Japan should also remind us of the importance of planning for major and minor disasters that could knock our email and other IT systems offline. While few of us will face the horror of a tsunami, there are a number of less dramatic events that could separate us from access to our communication and content systems for an extended period:

  • Major power outages: the University of Minnesota found that non-disaster-related power outages that affect 50,000 or more consumers are increasing in the United States, from a total of 41 between 1991 and 1995 to 92 between 2001 and 2005. A 2008 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that utilities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania experience outages of three hours 34 minutes per year—that translates to uptime of only 99.959%.
  • Floods:  the floods in Queensland in early 2011 knocked out power to 127,000 people, some for as long as three weeks. In the United States, floods created $8.2 billion in insurance losses between 1978 and 2001 in the top ten flood-prone states. Floods account for 40% of all natural disasters.
  • Earthquakes: according to the United States Geological Service, there is an average of 150 earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 or greater each year worldwide. Having gone through a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area early in my career and being out of our corporate offices for about 2.5 months, I can attest to the highly disruptive impact that an earthquake can have on a business.

Although these major events can have a serious impact on our ability to access email, the Internet and other critical business resources, less noteworthy events can also have a major impact: the squirrel that chews through a power cable, the car that hits a telephone pole in front of our building, the snowstorm that keeps us out of the office for a day or two, or the sprinkler pipe that develops a leak right above the server room.

The IT and business response to these should focus on three key initiatives:

  1. Back up email and content stores—many organizations, even very large ones, don’t do this adequately. At a minimum, ensure that all critical content is backed up to a remote location.
  2. Enable an email continuity system so that employees can still communicate with one another, with customers, with prospects, etc. for as long as necessary after a disaster. Design the system to operate indefinitely, since you could be out of your offices for months.
  3. Develop a plan for enabling employees to work remotely. This means giving them access to communications tools and content stores that can be used anywhere, anytime.

We have addressed one aspect of this—email continuity—in a white paper we wrote recently.  You can download it here.

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