What to Do When... Your Business Is Hit by the Flu

Coughing. Fever. Body aches. Once again, it's the time of year when 5-20 percent of Americans get the flu. Despite being ill, many of these people (59 percent, to be exact) report to work, potentially spreading the virus to coworkers. Each year the flu costs the U.S. economy $180 billion in profits and lost productivity. We have outlined some best practices for you and your employees to follow to keep your workplace healthy and productive:
    woman blowing nose at work
  • Get a flu shot. To encourage employees to follow suit, arrange for on-site vaccinations.
  • Frequently wash hands and practice good respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes).
  • Send home employees who appear to have flu symptoms and establish policies on when they should return to work.
  • Provide options for working from home if possible.
  • Regularly disinfect surfaces that employees are frequently in contact with.
Read more about what you can do to avoid spreading the flu here.

How Playing With Legos Helps With Disaster Recovery

Lego disaster recovery robot
Image courtesy of the Brisbane Times
Research has shown that Legos are great for child development. But did you know that they can help with disaster recovery development as well?

The Queensland University of Technology’s Lego League, which includes fifty teams of nine- to 16-year-olds, recently participated in a challenge to build Lego robots that can assist in a series of disaster-related challenges, such as how to deliver food or how to navigate flood water and earthquake rubble.

QUT is on to something — not only for DR planners in the making but for grown-up planners as well. Tabletop exercises such as these may seem like child’s play, but don’t be fooled: They are crucial.

Here’s why:
  • You can play out any scenario without tying up resources (other than your Lego stash, that is).
  • You’re forced to step back and look at the big picture of your disaster recovery plan.
  • You get a grasp for how all the pieces of your plan fit together.
  • You encourage teamwork among your business’s staff.
  • You harness the power of imagination. (When working together as a team, you can discover ideas you never would have thought of otherwise.)
What are your favorite tabletop exercises?

What to Do When... Your Business Continuity Plan Has More Tricks Than Treats

Let's face it: Disasters, whether natural or man-made, are scary. Even if your company hasn't personally been spooked by a disaster, you've probably seen the horror that happens to businesses that have.

jack o'lanternSurprisingly, what some businesses fear more than the threat of a disaster is the thought of making a BC/DR plan. Because of this fear, some organizations choose to forgo planning altogether. Others, in a rush to complete their plans, end up with a document that has more tricks than treats. To help you face your fears, we have outlined some ghoulish tricks to avoid in BC/DR planning.

Your Plan Is Not Well Documented

If you have a BC/DR plan that is not properly documented, then you really don’t have a plan at all. Your records should include internal and external contact information, copies of vendor contracts, specifications for all your critical resources and a chain of command to establish who is in charge in the event that the main decision makers are unavailable.

The most crucial part of documentation to include in your BC/DR plan is step-by-step instructions on how to recover your operations. Lastly, your documentation should be printed out and safely stored off-site as well as accessible in the cloud.

Your Plan Is Outdated

An out-of-date BC/DR plan can be more harmful than helpful during a disruption due to its irrelevancy and ineffectiveness. Even a plan that is two or three years old may not reflect the current company environment. Employees, vendors and service providers can often change, and since they are all vital to business continuity, these changes should be updated in your BC/DR plan. Any new system or hardware configurations and new data backup and recovery technologies should be included as well.

To ensure that your BC/DR plan is continuously updated, assign ownership of the plan to an employee who is responsible for making sure that BC/DR planning is an ongoing process.

Your Employees Are Not Aware Of Your Plan

The average employee doesn't consider what affect a disaster would have on day-to-day procedures.  If you haven't informed your employees of your plan, they won't realize that everyone plays a role in the recovery process.

Inform employees about your BC/DR processes and procedures, and include training on what they should do in the event an interruption or disaster prevents them from working. Training should include printed instructions on how to report a business interruption.

Your Plan Does Not Include Employees’ Personal Needs

Disasters don't just affect your business. Employees are suffering from the impact as well. Their initial concerns will be the safety of their loved ones, their homes and themselves. If your recovery rests on one or two key employees being able to report to work as usual, you’re taking a huge risk.

Your business continuity plan should contain provisions for operating with a limited staff and provide employees with instructions for remote access.

Your Plan Has Not Been Sufficiently Tested

According to a survey by InformationWeek, only 40 percent of businesses have tested their BC/DR plan in the last 12 months. Assuming that your plan will work in the event of a disaster or interruption can put your business at risk; you don’t want to find out in the middle of a disaster that you plan is flawed or incomplete.

When testing, you should remove common comforts, such as electricity and communication technology, to give an accurate picture of the chaos a disaster can bring. If you’re using a third party BC/DR vendor, have them on hand to answer the technical questions that you and your employees are sure to have.

Having a successful BC/DR plan doesn’t have to be tricky. To learn more about how to treat your business with an effective plan, check out our Business Continuity Checklist

South Park Studios Hit by Common Business Continuity Disaster

History was made last Wednesday. For the first time ever, South Park Studios missed a deadline.

The producers of the show, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are notorious for cutting it close to the wire. They constantly tout the show's six-day turnaround time as a way to keep the show fresh and topical, but this week a common business disaster felled the five-time Emmy and multi-Tony award winners.

Parker and Stone with several Tony awards.
From LATimesBlog.
A statement from Comedy Central explains: "On Tuesday night, South Park Studios lost power. From animation to rendering to editing and sound, all of their computers were down for hours and they were unable to finish episode 1704, ‘Goth Kids 3: Dawn Of The Posers’ in time for air tonight."

Power outages are a common disaster for businesses in every field, not just major television studios. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, power outages costs businesses $100 billion a year. If you want to get a jump start on how to handle power outages from a business perspective, download our Power Outage Checklist.

Disaster Recovery Helpful Hints — Part 3

The previous helpful hints in this series addressed the significance of including employees in your BC/DR plan as well as how to analyze the risks everyday disasters pose to your business. In this post, we want to stress the importance of testing your business continuity plan in a real-world scenario.

Why Test? 

Your continuity plan is not simply a systematic recovery procedure on paper but a process that real people have to enact when faced with a business disruption. Businesses repeatedly hear that testing is without a doubt the best way to stay operational following a disaster; however, the majority of companies fail to take the time to do so. According to InformationWeek's 2013 survey, only 40 percent of organizations have tested their disaster recovery plans in the last 12 months.

If you fall into the category of businesses that have put testing on the back burner, we understand. Testing your plan in a real-world disaster scenario is no cakewalk. However, the reality is, you can't automatically assume a plan you haven't tested will work. Doing so might be dangerous, for both your staff and your business. The following are helpful hints on how to conduct a test in a real-world scenario, not a vacuum.

Don't Rely on Your Experienced Employees Alone

Your best employees won't always be at your disposal after a disaster, so it's important to include new employees as well as your go-to staff members in the testing process. Run what-if scenarios that affect each department and let all employees know who to contact and what to do in the event of an interruption. Afterwards, gather feedback to identify gaps in your plan or staff members who need further clarification on business continuity procedures.

Take Your Staff Out of Their Element

Conducting tests in an air-conditioned room where your employees have full access to the company network does not paint an accurate picture of how chaotic a disaster will be. To help your staff understand the reality of a disaster, remove common comforts such as electricity and chairs and cut off access to external and internal communications. Also, ask participants to consider how they would manage their personal recovery.

After walking your team through the recovery process, challenge them to run through the test on their own. You'll quickly identify which steps in the plan are unclear or incomplete.

Involve Your Vendor 

If you use a third-party BC/DR vendor, ask them to send a representative to help you conduct an annual test. During a live test, it's likely that your staff will have questions about the disaster recovery plan in general or the solutions specifically. It's ideal to have a representative on hand who is familiar with your recovery solutions to answer technical questions.

Check out our testing blogs for more tips on how to identify gaps in your plan.

Disaster Recovery Helpful Hints — Part 2

Our last helpful hint was centered on the importance of including employees in your BC/DR plan. In this post, we want to help you prepare your business so it can survive a disaster, no matter how big or small. Our advice is this: Realistically analyze the risks everyday and natural disasters pose to your business. 

Tip of the Month

Hope for the Best; Prepare for the Worst

In order for a DR plan to be effective in any scenario, it's important to determine the absolute minimum resources required to keep your important processes running and to meet any applicable regulatory requirements.

Make Sure You Have Access to Essential IT Assets

Back up your business-critical information and store it at an alternate site — out of harm’s way, if possible. Many business owners don't expect for their office to be destroyed, but that assumption is ultimately detrimental because critical information could be destroyed along with it. Prepare for a disaster to destroy all your files and information, and store backup copies of everything at an off-site location where you will be able to retrieve it.

Office equipment such as printers, copiers, computers and telephones should also be accounted for in a disaster situation. If your employees are going to work from an alternate site, make sure it is equipped with the technology they would have at their regular office. Without the technology to do their jobs, business could become stagnant, which could lead to extended downtime.

Make Arrangements for Non-IT Assets

Office space is the number one non-IT asset to make sure you have in case of a disaster. Your office may be inaccessible or unsafe to work from, in which case you will need a backup. A Mobile Recovery Center (MRC) can be sent to a location near the business in case of lost power, or it can be miles away from a business, out of danger's path. A Business Recovery Center (BRC) can be a temporary office in case of a disaster. When your office has been destroyed and the city is in ruins, a BRC provides a true office atmosphere for your employees to continue work.

Whatever type of facility you choose to use, make sure you plan how you will power it. If you are going to use a generator, how will you get the generator to the facility? In addition, how will you fuel the generator? These aspects need to be included in a recovery plan so your business can operate quickly after a disaster.

Last but not least, make arrangements for your employees. Just as we discussed in part 1 of this series, it is crucial to create a plan and include employees so they will know what to do before a disaster strikes. Employees keep businesses running, so try to assess and address potential issues while keeping your staff informed.

Obtain Backup Vendors

According to an APQC survey, almost 75 percent of 195 large companies surveyed recently got hit by an unexpected major supply chain disruption in the last 24 months.

Between your employees' safety, your business's safety and your personal safety, things are hectic during a disaster. The last thing you want to worry about is a critical vendor being out of commission. Make sure you are aware ahead of time who your backup vendors are and how to contact them in the event of a disaster. Determine which critical processes require outside parties and assess what their availability will be in the event of a disaster.

Check out our "What to Do When..." blogs for information on how to prepare for specific disasters.

[VIDEO] Lessons Learned From Disaster Recovery Expert Dianne Stephens

In our video "The Importance of Testing" our disaster recovery solutions engineers discuss the whys of testing. But when it comes time to test, what next? Disaster recovery specialist Dianne Stephens, who has worked with us on a Mobile Recovery Center test, discusses her experience in our latest video. Below are some testing best practices we've gleaned from our interview with Dianne.

Determine Business Continuity Concerns to Address During the Test

Every company has unique business continuity concerns, whether it's remaining compliant with federal regulations, maintaining access to supply chains or restoring crucial data.

When Dianne tested with us, her number one priority was making sure her client, a call center, had a functional workspace and voice and data connectivity. By testing in a Mobile Recovery Center equipped with voice and data technology, she was able to ensure that her client's business continuity needs were addressed.

Let the Professionals Field the Tough Questions

During a live test, it's likely that participants will have questions about the disaster recovery plan in general or the solutions specifically.

While your disaster recovery team may be well equipped to answer many of these questions, it's ideal to have a representative on hand who is familiar with your disaster recovery solutions to answer more technical questions.

For example, during the test Dianne conducted with Rentsys, she took full advantage of the Rentsys staff's technical knowledge to make sure that the call center personnel were able to seamlessly take customer calls. As a result, the test was completed successfully, despite a severe storm rolling through the area.

Inform Employees and Customers of Your Business Continuity Plan

Not only is testing essential to the success of your disaster recovery plan, but it also shows your employees and clients that you're proactive about remaining operational in the event of a business disruption.

By involving them in the testing process, you demonstrate to them that they are a valuable component of your business. In addition, allowing your customers and clients to carry out your disaster recovery plan in a testing environment gives them an opportunity to point out ways to improve your plan.

Do you have any other testing best practices to share? Let us know in the comments!

New Report Reveals Small Businesses Especially Vulnerable to Damage by Extreme Weather

According to a recent report by the Small Business Majority (SBM) and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), small businesses are particularly at risk of damage from extreme weather due to their lack of access to capital and resources.

Small businesses are also at a disadvantage because the majority operate out of a single physical location, and 90 percent of their business is made up of the population within 2 miles from their doors. This causes these businesses to be especially vulnerable to loss and technological or telecommunications failures.

Storm brewing over power line, grassy field
Because of their increased risk, it would seem safe to assume that small businesses would take extra precautions to protect themselves from the dangers of severe weather.

Unfortunately, the report revealed just the opposite, stating that 57 percent of small businesses have no disaster recovery plans whatsoever. Of the 43 percent that have plans in place, 90 percent spend less than one day a month preparing or maintaining them.

Luckily, there are several precautionary steps that your small business can take to help curb the effects of extreme weather and other disastrous situations.

Define What a Disaster Means to Your Business

Often it is the small-scale disasters, rather than regional natural disasters, that will affect your business. An electrical fire, power outage, flooded office or failed hard drive with no backup can force you to send employees home and hang up your closed sign. When incorporating a disaster recovery vendor into your plan, make sure they give you the flexibility to define a disaster and the option to declare some or all of your recovery solutions.

Devise a Plan of Action

It’s important to plan for total destruction, because after a disaster, you and your employees may be unable to access your office building or the critical equipment inside. Because the majority of small businesses operate out of a single location, it’s smart to consider having a mobile workspace delivered that will help keep daily operations up and running. Business owners should also store files at an off-site location to protect vital information from being destroyed. 

Test Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Many small business owners fail to realize that testing their disaster recovery plan is just as imperative as creating the plan. By testing the plan and procedures at least once a year, you can fill in the gaps of the plan and identify additional recovery needs you might not have seen on paper.

For a more detailed checklist of what to include in your business's disaster recovery plan, check out our Business Continuity Plan Checklist.

Disaster Recovery From the Perspectives of Pixar and DreamWorks

Kid with Airplane
A toy cowboy and an overly confident spaceman taught us the value of friendship.

An old man and a boy scout taught us that the adventure never ends.

A dragon taught us that things aren't always as they seem.

A kung fu-loving panda taught us to look inward to find our strength.

All of these lessons came from the creative minds at Pixar Animation Studios and DreamWorks. These companies also have lessons to teach us through their different approaches to disaster recovery.

Pixar's Disaster Recovery Nightmare

In 2012, Pixar experienced a disaster recovery nightmare when its files, containing two months and hundreds of hours of work for “Toy Story 2,” were accidentally deleted.

“The command that had been run was most likely ‘rm -r -f *’, which commands the system to begin removing every file below the current directory,” said Oren Jacob, the associate technical director for “Toy Story 2.” This is commonly used to clear out a subset of unwanted files. Unfortunately, someone on the system had run the command at the root level of the project, and the system was recursively tracking down through the file structure and deleting its way out like a worm eating its way out from the core of an apple."

Backups were available, but unfortunately, they weren't up-to-date. By a stroke of luck, Pixar was able to recover the entire movie. Read the full story here.

Lesson Learned

You should not only regularly backup your data, but confirm through testing that your backup methods are working, because sometimes, technology fails us. 

DreamWorks' Disaster Recovery Dream Come True

DreamWorks is taking proactive planning measures to protect its animated movie files by partnering with the city of Glendale, CA — the state with the second highest number of earthquakes in the U.S. — to build a disaster recovery program called “Back to Business.” The program aims to provide a localized recovery for businesses affected by disasters. (You can learn more about it here.)

Lesson Learned

DreamWorks teaches us that businesses must be proactive in planning for the unexpected, because disasters can strike at any moment. It’s vital to have up-to-date backup files of business-critical data and to have a plan in place in the event of a disaster.

So even though Pixar and DreamWorks have taken different approaches to disaster recovery, they both teach us one thing: it's important to be proactive in finding a solution for backing up and protecting your data. What steps are you taking to protect your data?

What to Do When... There's a Gas Leak

What to Do When...
In November of 2012, Boston University conducted a study revealing that there were more than 3,300 natural gas leaks across Boston. Six of the locations had gas levels high enough to cause a major explosion.

Gas leaks in homes and businesses are more common than you would expect.

Natural gas contains carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas that interferes with normal oxygen uptake, making it a silent assassin.To protect your employees and your business, it's important that you know how to detect, react and report a leak.

Start by following these tips from Consumers Energy.


If you notice any of the following signs, you may have a natural gas leak:
  • A blowing or hissing sound coming from the ground
  • Dirt or dust blowing up from a hole in the ground
  • Bubbling water in wet or flooded areas
  • Dead plant life around your gas line 
  • A rotten egg odor


If you suspect a natural gas leak, take the following precautions:
  • Evacuate the area immediately. 
  • Do not start your car near the gas line, because the spark from your ignition might cause an explosion.
  • Do not use any electrical devices (light switches, telephones or appliances) for the same reason.
  • Do not try to find the source of the leak or fix it yourself.
  • If the natural gas ignites, do not attempt to put out the flames; just let it burn itself out.


Report the leak to your local gas company from a safe location. Remember, do not attempt to resolve the leak yourself.

    Be aware of natural gas lines around your business and create a business continuity plan so you can be prepared in the event of a gas leak.

    Disaster Recovery Helpful Hints — Part 1

    Tip of the MonthWhen an organization's normal business practices are interrupted by a disaster, financial difficulties follow in the form of damaged equipment, a loss in productivity and a tarnished reputation. Business-Critical Continuity estimates that a single disaster event costs businesses $505,500 on average.

    So while damages to your facility and equipment are unavoidable, you can reduce your business's downtime and increase stakeholders' trust in your company by having a business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan in place. In this three-part series, we will give you helpful tips that BC planners often overlook when creating recovery strategies, starting with this: A disaster doesn't only affect your business. It also affects your employees. 

    Include Employees in Your BC/DR Plan

    Not All Employees Can Work from Home

    You may think that your employees can simply work from home in the event of a disaster; however, this isn't always a viable option. Have you considered the fact that when a large amount of employees try to log on to your corporate network, it has a tendency to drastically slow down or crash altogether?

    In addition, if your office has lost power or has experienced more serious damages, your employees' homes are probably in the same boat.

    Don't Rely on One Person's Knowledge for Critical Information

    Having only one employee who can access password-protected information or applications can cause unnecessary downtime. What if you can't reach that person after a disaster? Instead, equip more than one person with access to your business-critical information.

    Anticipate Employees' Concerns in the Midst of a Disaster

    After a disaster, your employees need to know what steps to take. To eliminate confusion and the repetitious process of answering the same question multiple times, consider sending out an automated emergency message in the form of an email or phone call that contains an update on the condition of your facility, when/where employees should come into work, etc.

    We also highly recommend that you test your business continuity plan before a disaster strikes and at least once per year. This will enable you to gather employee feedback about what's working and what's not.

    It can be difficult to remember all of the important information to include in a BC/DR plan, so review our Business Continuity Plan Checklist for help.

    [INFOGRAPHIC] Hurricanes by the Numbers

    As the largest hurricane to ever rip through the Northeastern coast, Hurricane Sandy was up to 900 miles in diameter. That's bigger than the state of Texas! This infographic compares the magnitude of Sandy to the ferocity of Irene and the deadliness of Katrina.

    For tips on preparing for hurricane season, check out our hurricane preparedness checklist.

    Review Severe Weather Safety Reminders

    Do you ever have trouble remembering the difference between a weather watch and warning? Here are a few reminders about the differences between the severe weather alerts and what to do about them.


    tornado spout
    Tornado Watch: Conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes.

    Tornado Warning: A tornado has been sighted by spotters or indicated on the radar in your local area.

    When your area is under a tornado watch, start to prepare for a tornado. Plan to take shelter underground, on the lowest level of a building or in an inner room without exterior walls or windows. Check for local weather announcements periodically in case a tornado begins to develop. If you hear a tornado warning, take shelter immediately, as a tornado is in your area.

    Severe Thunderstorms

    lightning-filled sky Severe Thunderstorm Watch:  Conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms that may produce winds, large hail and dangerous lightning.

    Severe Thunderstorm Warning: A severe thunderstorm has been observed by spotters or indicated on the radar and is occurring in your local area.

    Storms can develop quickly and have damaging effects on the ill-prepared. If there is a thunderstorm watch or warning in effect, move away from windows in case of hail and limit the use of electrical equipment to avoid electrocution from lightning.


    "Road Closed" sign on flooded street
    Flash Flood Watch: Heavy rains are possible and may produce flooding.

    Flash Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or imminent in your local area.

    When the sky turns ominously dark, be on the lookout for flood alerts. Start to prepare for a flood if there is a watch in your area by placing important items on counters or shelves. Heavy floods can carry dangerous materials that may break through walls, so stay away from the exterior walls and windows. If a flood starts to build up, move to higher ground. Try to avoid getting in your car, because some floods have the power to sweep a car off the road.

    Here are a few tips on how to prepare for a flood if one reaches your area.

    Hurricane Terms

    Satellite image of hurricaneTropical Disturbance: A loosely organized area of thunderstorms that remains in an area for 24 hours or more.

    Tropical Depression: An area of low pressure characterized by rotary circulation of thunderstorms with winds of less than 39 mph.

    Tropical Storm: An unorganized area of low pressure and thunderstorms with distinct circulation and winds of 39-73 mph.

    Hurricane Watch: Hurricane conditions are possible in the designated area within 36 hours.

    Hurricane Warning: Hurricane conditions are expected in the designated area within 24 hours.

    Hurricane: Pronounced rotary circulation with wind speeds of 74 mph or greater.

    Storm Surge: An abnormal rise in sea level usually caused by a hurricane. Storm surge height is the rise in sea level caused by the storm.

    The progression of a tropical disturbance into a hurricane can occur quickly. Without the proper protection, hurricane damage could be devastating. If you see a tropical disturbance in your area, stay updated on local weather reports in case a hurricane forms. Begin to board up your windows, prepare for flooding and back up all important data.

    If a hurricane develops and is projected to reach your area, follow evacuation plans and prepare for roads to be crowded. For a comprehensive pre-hurricane plan, review our hurricane preparedness checklist.

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