Preparing for the worst can keep firms above water

BYTE IDEA: Ryan Maslar, information-services manager for AVTECH Software Inc., in the Warren company’s data-storage room. The company helps others around the world protect their data in the case of a crisis. /
BYTE IDEA: Ryan Maslar, information-services manager for AVTECH Software Inc., in the Warren company’s data-storage room. The company helps others around the world protect their data in the case of a crisis. /

Scott Dickinson and his wife, Wendy Field, know what a business disaster looks like.
In their case, it was workspace filled 12 feet high with water, nearly $700,000 worth of product, supplies and equipment submerged, and 16 years worth of company paperwork floating on top of it all.
Their West Warwick company, SD Concept Engineering Inc., the builder of high-performance automobile engines and cars, is still struggling to recover from last spring’s devastating flooding. The company was underinsured, lacked data backup and was cut off from customers for days after losing its phone line.
“A disaster plan? No, we didn’t have one. But, really who was proactive for this? Everyone was reactive, from business to the government,” said Field. “Never in your wildest dreams do you expect water up to your ceiling.”
Preparing for the unthinkable – whether it is floods, fire or a roof collapse – is not always on the front-burner for many small- and mid-sized businesses, particularly when a bad economy makes known business threats a daily battle for survival.
William K. Austin, a principal at Austin & Stanovich Risk Managers LLC in Providence, said the idea of developing a disaster plan or a business-continuity plan is becoming more and more prevalent, growing greatly since Y2K fears. He added that the level of preparation varies, mostly based on size and type of company.
When businesses turn to Austin’s firm for help he asks owners and managers to envision a disaster as “a smoking black hole.”
“We don’t want people to say, ‘Well, we would never have our roof collapse due to snow, an airliner crash into our building or a tornado.’ We want them to start with, something happened, regardless of what, and now how are you going to rebuild?” he explained.
Austin, who works closely with Copper Harbor Consulting Inc., based in Needham, Mass., said part of the pre-planning process begins with determining all revenue streams and expenses, and how each would be affected.
Ensuring a company is adequately insured tops the priority list. So a company needs to think about its business-interruption insurance and extra-expense insurance coverage. He added that while most businesses do have these types of insurance, it might not be at a level to respond to a catastrophic event.
Austin said disaster plans are an opportunity to research how a company will respond not only financially but logistically. Is there any alternate site to do our work? Can employees work from home remotely? How do we communicate with customers? If we have the means to produce at a limited capacity, which customers do we serve?
“The supply-chain question is an important one. It will come back to … your critical customers. You need to go up the supply chain and start with the companies that provide the majority of your business,” he explained.
Making do when staff is spread thin is critical during a crisis and could be more easily accomplished with planning. He suggests that companies tell clients that the business is being proactive in developing a disaster plan and wants to know, for example, if the typical turnaround time of three days could be lengthened to seven days in the case of a disaster.
Austin said pre-planning is about protection, especially the safety of data. Even the most well-insured company will suffer if their server is destroyed and there’s no data backup.
Eric M. Shorr, president of PC Troubleshooters Inc., in Warwick, said it is essential to keep the bread and butter of your business – customer lists, accounting data, etc. – stored offsite. That could include using a remote server or simply taking home a USB drive or DVD with vital data.
“A business owner does not want to rely on a data-recovery service,” Shorr said. “You don’t want to get to the point of someone searching through a hard drive.” He added that data recovery is expensive and does not guarantees success.
The loss of data doesn’t always happen with a bang, of course. AVTECH Software Inc., based in Warren, has helped companies throughout the world protect data centers and other resources from everything ranging from sudden events, like fire and power loss, to gradual fluctuations in temperature and humidity that can prove disastrous.
The company’s software and hardware products monitor conditions in IT data centers and other facilities. Once an issue or event occurs, their products alert key employees through messages sent to cell phones, pagers, and e-mail, among other communications.
“We let you know in seconds … not tomorrow when the damage is done,” said Michael Sigourney, AVTECH’s senior product specialist. He added that his company’s most popular products cost less than $500 and are popular among smaller companies.
SD Concept Engineering owners say there are many lessons learned from their experience with flooding. Offsite data storage is one of them. Finding a new location on higher ground is another long-term goal. The reality, though, is the couple lacks the time and the money to invest in the future.
“It’s nice to think about preparing for a disaster. But, we are still struggling to get past the last one, a year later,” said Field. &#8226

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