Compuquip Technologies cant stop for storms. The Doral company handles outsourced information technology tasks for other businesses and receives about 3,000 telephone calls a day for customer support. Thats why cautious Compuquip keeps copies of customer records, software applications and other computer files on remote hardware in a windowless, multi-tenant data center designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.
"Our team could run our company out of a Starbucks or out of a hotel or anywhere there is Internet access," said Eric Dosal, president and chief executive officer. "In the event our office goes down, we have multiple options."
Low-tech precautions are critical to business continuity, too. Even the simplest errors in hurricane preparation can undo sophisticated efforts to minimize physical, digital and financial damage to a business . If a Category 1 storm or worse approaches, for example, Compuquips managers will remind employees to buy as much gasoline as possible so they can use mobile-phone battery chargers adapted for cars.
"We went through this with Wilma," Dosal said, referring to the 2005 hurricane that caused a multi-day electricity outage throughout South Florida, leaving many gasoline stations powerless and out of service. "When we get a hurricane advisory, we tell employees to fill up their tanks."
Good planning in the event of a bad storm is imperative for all enterprises and their employees, Richard Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, advised recently during the Miami Chamber of Commerces annual hurricane-preparation seminar.
"The worst possible thing you can do is not have a plan . . . I can assure that at my house and at the hurricane center, we have a written plan, and I implore you to do that," Knabb said. "If you dont know what you would tell your employees, if you dont know if you have enough of the proper insurance, if you dont know if your business or home is ready to take the winds of a hurricane, if you dont know if your home or business is in a storm-surge evacuation zone, find out all those things, and write down what your plan is going to be."
Contingency planning is especially crucial for companies like Compuquip that cant afford to go down for long. But almost any enterprise can become better prepared for a major storm without spending a small fortune.
Businesses should avoid the temptation to "over-engineer a solution thats way too expensive and ends up on a shelf," said Stefan Pittinger, vice president and general manager of the South Florida operations of Peak10, which helps businesses protect themselves from natural disasters and recover afterward.
Insisting on zero downtime and instant post-hurricane access to information technology may be overkill, depending on the business. "You need to identify, within your IT infrastructure, what you can do without for an hour," Pittinger said. "What can you do without for two hours? What you can do without for a week or two?"
Pittinger said companies typically want instant access to their most critical information technology in a disaster, so "the point-blank question is: Whats critical? The answer every single time is: Everything!" But companies usually lower their standards when they learn "its going to cost this much to get your operation up and running in 15 minutes, or this much in two hours, or this much in two days," he said. "Suddenly, everything isnt critical when you have a price point next to that."