Case Study: Disaster Preparation in the Eye of the Storm

disaster-preparation-disaster-recovery-IBIS-technologyIf you were anywhere in the state of Florida on September 9, 2017, you experienced the fear, stress, and panic of Hurricane Irma. We all learned some truly valuable lessons from what Irma has done. As South Florida begins to return to normal, now is an opportune time to reflect on what we learned to improve our Disaster Preparation and Business Continuity Plans.

In the Eye of the Storm - Kelly's Response 

The other day I sat down with a close friend to talk about her experience before, during and after the storm. Kelly Vaandering, a local business owner of a property and casualty insurance company, M & L Insurance, has been a resident and business owner in South Florida for over three decades. Kelly is very aware of the potential damage caused by tropical storms, and has always tried to be proactive in protecting her business with a disaster plan.

This study aims to compare the differences in her approach in disaster preparation and disaster response to Hurricane Wilma in October 2005 and Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Let’s see what lessons we can learn from Kelly. 

 

Hurricane Wilma – October 2005

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When Hurricane Wilma clobbered South Florida on Monday, October 24, 2005, drenching rains and powerful wind gusts resulted in widespread damage, bringing down power lines and severely impacting critical infrastructure. The storm left the entire South Florida region damaged, and brought the economy to a grinding halt. 

Hurricane Wilma was the fourth Category 5 hurricane and one of the top three most intense hurricanes (along with #4 Rita and #7 Katrina) of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. 

Disaster Preparation: Fear, Stress & Panic 

After the National Hurricane Center issued numerous watches and warnings in anticipation of Wilma, many businesses owners (including Kelly) implemented their Disaster Preparation Plans. This included deploying a long checklist of items, such as:

  • Disconnecting technology from power
  • Securing all servers, computer equipment, and network infrastructure from physical damage
  • Verifying the last data backup was successful and securing the location of backup media
  • Redirecting phone services to cell phones
  • Notifying employees of attendance/operating protocol and general communication in the aftermath
  • And the list goes

Disaster Recovery

Fortunately, Kelly’s offices didn't sustain any physical damage. However, widespread and continual power outages had a severe impact throughout the region, and on her business:

  • Phone service was disrupted and cell signals were inconsistent, making it difficult for her clients to reach the firm and submit their claims
  • Battery backups were quickly depleted, rendering all on-site servers and computer workstations useless. Team members could not process claims, access company databases, or even use the basic software necessary to do their jobs
  • Power was eventually restored (over a week later), yet Internet outages made remote access impossible. Still, no email and no access to client information
  • In all, Kelly lost 13 days of business productivity, valuable monetary resources, and immeasurable goodwill with her clients

Lessons Learned

In the wake of Hurricane Wilma, even if Kelly could have moved her team to a safe location, her agency had no way to continue working and begin processing claims, nor any way to receive phone calls from clients submitting their claims.

The result? Fear, stress, and panic. 

 

Hurricane Irma – September 2017

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Fast forward to August 2017, when Kelly witnessed the devastation brought on the Houston, Texas area by Hurricane Harvey. She was heartbroken for the people of Southeast Texas and reminded of how Hurricane Wilma had rocked South Florida just over a decade ago.

Now, the National Hurricane Center was reporting Hurricane Irma – a Category 5 catastrophic hurricane – was leaving a path of destruction across the Caribbean Islands and was primed to bear down on the state of Florida.

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Millions of residents stocked up on supplies like water, food, gas, and sandbags, while others evacuated the state to escape Irma’s impending wrath.

Amid the chaos, Kelly was ready to put her Business Continuity Plan into action.

Disaster Preparation: Peace of Mind

As residents scrambled to brace themselves and their businesses for Irma, Kelly felt fully prepared this time around.

In the time since Hurricane Wilma, Kelly had migrated her traditional IT systems from on-premise to a Cloud-based IT infrastructure. Having just witnessed Harvey’s devastation of Houston, Kelly felt confident in her decision to move her systems to the Cloud.

In preparation for Irma, Kelly was able to focus on her team’s safety. She did not have to worry about her firm’s operations because she had a Business Continuity Plan in place, including:

  • Quickly and efficiently setting up a temporary operations command center (in a hotel in St. Louis where she sent a small group of employees equipped with generic laptops and the phones from their desks)
  • Proactively communicating to clients ahead of time on what to do to prepare for the storm
  • Verifying backups was a non-issue, as these were automatically redundant in the Cloud
  • All her team needed to resume operations was a laptop, power, and an Internet connection to work from their Cloud-hosted desktops 

Disaster Recovery

Even though the office was without power for five days after the storm, Kelly’s business was uninterrupted.

  • Each member of her staff was able to work effectively from the remote location, with total access to all data systems and customer information, and was also able to receive incoming calls without interruption
  • Her team was able to process claims for clients all over the state of Florida, getting assistance to clients quickly and efficiently during a harrowing time
  • The bottom line for Kelly? Her business never lost a step.

Lessons Learned

In the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, gaining the support to address her costly and difficult disaster recovery issues was a real challenge.

When compared to more traditional on-premise computing methods, migrating to the Cloud offered Kelly’s firm increased business continuity with a complete and flexible Cloud-based IT infrastructure, lower costs, and the ability to remain productive, even through the most catastrophic of events.

The result? Peace of mind.

How to Ensure Your Business is Prepared for the Next Storm? 

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, with South Florida starting to return to normal, there are some vital lessons that should stay with us forever. What should you do differently next time? Here are some tips on On-Premise vs. the Cloud: How to Protect Your Business Before the Storm.

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