National Preparedness Month Is Here

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Don’t wait. Communicate. Make your emergency plan today. These are’s tips for this year’s National Preparedness Month (NPM), which kicked off September 1.

The campaign is encouraging the American public to have a plan for staying safe and communicating during disasters such as floods and wildfires. Each week this month is dedicated to a specific hazard, with the last week culminating in America’s PrepareAthon!, a grassroots campaign encouraging communities to increase preparedness and resilience.

The full schedule is as follows:

  • Week 1 (September 1-5): Flood
  • Week 2 (September 6-12): Wildfire
  • Week 3 (September 13-19): Hurricane
  • Week 4 (September 20-26): Power Outage
  • Week 5 (September 27-30): Lead up to National PrepareAthon! Day (September 30)

Will you participate in NPM? To get started, check out our planning checklists on the Resources page of our website.

Remembering Hurricane Katrina: Declaration Stories

August 29, 2015, marks the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which decimated New Orleans and other areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Because of Katrina — and later Rita along the Texas Gulf Coast and Wilma in South Florida — 2005 was a landmark year not only for us at Rentsys but for many of our customers as well. By year’s end, we had experienced 43 disaster declarations, some of which lasted for months or even over a year.

Steve O'Neal, a current account executive and former operations manager, spoke to us about some of the memorable declarations he recalls from August and September 2005.

Helping Keep Gas Prices Down

Command Center MRC
Mobile Command Center
Photo by Glen Boote
Off the coast of Louisiana, a critical oil terminal and one of its refineries lost communications after Katrina. Connectivity was (and is) a key part of the crude oil supply chain, as each facility needed to be able to communicate with and provide refined products to refineries around the country.

By providing a Mobile Command Center equipped with satellite equipment, we were able to help the plants restore communications, which in turn led to a drop in gas prices. (Watch our video "Real Stories About Real Declarations" to hear more about this story.) 

Coping With Gas Shortages and Sleeping in Motor Homes

Spare fuel tank in front of MRC
Spare fuel tank for Mobile Claims Office
Photo by Glen Boote
Although gas production continued, supply was short in areas of the country that had been affected by Katrina. We witnessed the shortage firsthand during a declaration in Covington, LA, just 40 miles north of downtown New Orleans, where we deployed a Mobile Claims Office for an insurance company. 

We’d come prepared with a gas tank to fuel the claims center, and because the mobile unit was deployed next to a gas station, people flocked to us looking for fuel when the gas station ran out. 

We had to conserve fuel ourselves, as our team and the client had each deployed motor homes to sleep in. (The hotels that were open were full, and at one point our crew was asked to leave a hotel in Louisiana when the highway patrol commandeered it as a command post.) Some nights there were as many as 10 people sleeping in makeshift beds on the floors and couches in the motor homes.

Giving People a Place to Cash FEMA Checks

Mobile Banking Center
Mobile Banking Center in Pascagoula, MS
Photo by Glen Boote
Steve had been working more than 20 days straight when a bank in Pascagoula, MS declared. The company’s entire first floor — along with most of the town — was flooded. FEMA was cutting checks for recovery efforts, but there was nowhere in town for people to cash them, so our client wanted to resume operations in a Mobile Banking Center.

Once the branch was open, the bank gained several new customers who opened accounts so they could cash their FEMA checks. Despite dealing with their own crises in the aftermath of the hurricane, the bank’s employees had returned to work to help provide this critical service to the community. (Some employees even resorted to threading rope through their belt loops because they had no belts!) Since air-conditioned spaces were hard to find, many staff members brought their family members with them to the mobile unit. 

Responding to the Aftermath

Unfortunately, Katrina was not the grand finale for the 2005 hurricane season. In September, Rita triggered one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history, and in October, Wilma struck South Florida. 

Meanwhile, even as we responded to declarations related to each of these storms, we maintained our regular testing schedule. "You’re not going to reschedule our test?" our Northern customers asked in shock. We had DR coordinators deployed all over the country for declarations and tests, but we were still able to respond to every call within our normal time frame.

For many residents affected by Katrina and the subsequent hurricanes that year, recovery was not so timely. Even today, New Orleans is still recovering from the impact of Katrina.

Was your business affected by Katrina? How did you cope with the effects of the storm?

One Thing Your Cloud Provider Could Be Missing

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Your cloud solution could be missing something. We’re not talking about bandwidth, security or service level agreements (though these things are all important). We’re talking about customer service.

Often businesses evaluating potential cloud vendors are focused so much on tech specs that they don’t think about the matter of interacting with the vendor after the contract is signed. Sometimes this isn’t an issue if you’ve chosen a good provider. Other times, however, you might find that getting the support you need is like pulling teeth.

The following three categories can help you identify if a potential service provider will be a help or hindrance to meeting your data and application management goals.

Listening Skills

Are the cloud provider’s representatives trying to sell you services you don’t need, or are they dedicated to helping you build a backup solution that’s right for you? To get the most value out of your cloud solution, you need to make sure you’re not paying for products and services that you won’t use or that don’t do what you need them to.

Technical Assistance

What type of technical assistance does the provider offer? Support options could include self-service, phone support, on-site, in-house, outsourced or a combination.

It’s also important to know when assistance is available. Is the support provider — whether it be your vendor or a third party — only available during business hours? Is the company in the same time zone as you? Be sure to find out what level of support to expect and make sure you’re comfortable with it.

Technician Certifications

Knowing who will be offering your support can be almost as important as knowing the type of support you’ll receive. If you’re using a managed cloud service, are the people who will be handling your data certified engineers? Even if you manage your own data, will you have access to qualified help desk agents to resolve any issues?

Working with the right vendor can make a world of difference in how effective your cloud solution is for your business. To read more about best practices for implementing a cloud solution, read this post.

[INFOGRAPHIC] Continuity Planning Among Midsize Businesses

Nearly all (92 percent) of today’s midsize businesses have a business continuity plan in place, according to The Hartford’s 2014 Midsize Business Monitor, the results of which were released in July 2015.

But this figure isn’t as optimistic as it seems when you consider that 33 percent of these plans are verbal, and less than a third of the documented continuity plans are tested.

Check out The Hartford’s infographic to read more about how midsize businesses are faring when it comes to business continuity.

Continuity Planning Among Midsize Businesses Infographic

For more details on how testing could help midsize organizations improve their ability to respond to a business interruption, read our post "Four Reasons Testing Your Business Continuity Program Is Essential."

FFIEC Update: Cybersecurity Assessment Tool

Businesspeople discussing cyber security
Cybersecurity is a growing concern, particularly among highly regulated industries such as finance. In February, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) urged financial organizations to prepare for cyber risks in an appendix to its IT Examination Handbook. The FFIEC is continuing its push for better cybersecurity practices through the release of its new Cybersecurity Assessment Tool.

The tool walks organizations through completing a risk assessment, which involves determining an organization’s inherent risk profile and cybersecurity maturity levels within five domains:

  • Cyber Risk Management and Oversight
  • Threat Intelligence and Collaboration
  • Cybersecurity Controls
  • External Dependency Management
  • Cyber Incident Management and Resilience

As threats, vulnerabilities and operational environments evolve, FFIEC members plan to update the tool as necessary. To access the tool and related documents, visit

[Webinar Recap] DRaaS 101: What You Need to Know About Managing Your DR in the Cloud

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Disaster recovery as a service (DRaasS) is a hot topic in the DR world right now. But is DRaaS just another buzzword, or is it a better way of doing DR?

In a recent webinar with the Disaster Recovery Journal, Brandon Tanner, senior manager for Rentsys, talked about how DRaaS got its start, how businesses are using it and how to select a DRaaS provider.

If you missed the live presentation, you can access the recording here

Freight Trains and Chemical Spills: How to Prepare Your Business

Freight train chemical spill
At the beginning of this month, a train carrying the flammable, toxic chemical acrylonitrile partly derailed and caught fire near Knoxville, TN, forcing 5,000 people to vacate the area. 

A few days later, July 6, marked the two-year anniversary of the oil train derailment and subsequent explosions in Lac-M├ęgantic, QC, which killed 47 and forced 2,000 people to evacuate their homes.

While some business continuity planners focus on risk assessments for natural disasters of hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, man-made disasters such as train derailments and chemical spills can’t be ignored.

The Risks of Transporting Chemicals by Rail

Unfortunately, the risks of rail-transported hazardous materials are prevalent in certain areas of the U.S. and Canada. In Washington state, for example, up to 17 trains carry nearly 1 million gallons of crude oil through Spokane and other counties. 

While en route to oil refineries, one or two trains pass daily through Seattle’s antiquated downtown rail tunnel. If a spill or explosion were to occur, the city’s emergency managers warned that such an event would have a catastrophic effect on the city’s citizens, buildings and environment. 

This threat has become even more pronounced in recent years, with federal data revealing that more oil was spilled during U.S. rail incidents in 2013 than was spilled in nearly four decades.

Preparing for a Hazmat Catastrophe

Though the U.S. government recently coordinated with Canada to pass a rule for improving the safe transport of flammable liquids by rail, it’s still important that you take the following steps to protect your business and employees if you’re located near an industrial freight line.

Plan for an Alternate Facility

If a spill or explosion occurs in your region, you need to have a plan for alternate work arrangements. Even if your facility is left untouched, city evacuations can prevent you from accessing your building.

Some common backup facility options are Business Recovery Centers (BRCs), Mobile Recovery Centers (MRCs), modular buildings or rented office space. Because hazmat disasters happen with no notice and will likely affect other businesses in your region, you should consider contracting space ahead of time rather than relying on a first-come, first-served solution.

To minimize downtime, the facility should ideally be equipped with voice and data connectivity infrastructure and office technology preconfigured to your specifications. Also make sure the space can be available within your recovery time objectives. BRCs, for example, can be available in mere hours after a disaster declaration, and MRCs can be delivered within 24-48 hours. The availability of modular buildings and office space will vary.

Location is another key factor in selecting a facility. Choose a facility too far away, and your employees might not be able to travel to that location. Opt for a facility too close, and you run the risk of the building being affected by the same disaster that shuts your facility’s doors. The benefit of an MRC-based mobile recovery solution is that the unit can be deployed in a location of your choice without having to obtain permits from the city, as you would with a modular building.

Prepare for Loss of Data and Hardware

In the aftermath of a spill or explosion, your business could face restricted access to or even a total loss of critical IT infrastructure components. These assets could include servers and hard drives; on-premise traditional data repositories, such as tape; and end-user laptops and desktop computers. To continue business operations, you need access to your entire IT environment, including data, applications, operating systems and configurations.

Today, there are several available cloud solutions that give you the flexibility to recover your environment from anywhere with an Internet connection. For example, by using a secure cloud-based vaulting and recovery solution in conjunction with infrastructure as a service, you can spin up your environment at time of disaster without having to reconfigure your servers, PCs and other hardware.

To offset the loss of office technology, desktop as a service (DaaS) can give users access to their desktop configurations from any device. Some DaaS providers can supply backup technology as well.

You might also choose to use a colocation solution to protect your environment — particularly if you contract a BRC that offers on-site rack space. If you go this route, make sure the hosting facility is located close enough to your primary facility to address cost and latency concerns, but far enough away to ensure there’s not a common risk between geographies.

Conduct BC/DR Testing and Employee Safety Drills 

Once you have a plan in place, it’s important to test it to identify interdependencies among your systems and processes, reveal differences between production and recovered environments, and make sure your staff members know what’s expected of them.

You should also conduct routine safety drills so your employees will know what to do in case a spill or explosion occurs during business hours.

Is your company susceptible to the risks of hazardous materials transported by rail? If so, what steps are you taking to prepare?