Hurricane and New York City are two words that are rarely used in the same sentence…until this week. According to the latest weather predictions, Hurricane Irene is slated to cross right over the greater NYC area as a Category 1 hurricane in just under 48 hours. Hurricanes hit the Gulf states on a fairly regular basis, and anyone who’s lived in Houston for a while can tell you stories of both the short-term and long-term impacts of past storms. Through my involvement in the emergency services world, I’ve seen first hand the extensive planning that goes into preparing for these storms every hurricane season. It’s been over 70 years since a major hurricane has passed directly over the Northeast, and the extent of the impact of this “once in a lifetime” storm remains to be seen.
Hurricanes are unique in terms of natural disasters in that we usually have some warning before they strike and can prepare accordingly. It’s important to plan for a hurricane as an extended event and not just plan for the storm itself, as it can take weeks to undo the damage to local infrastructure. With that in mind, I’ve put together the following recommendations for steps to take to protect your firm’s data and infrastructure:
- Communicate with the firm’s staff. Setting the right expectation of what measures are being taken to protect the firm’s IT infrastructure goes a long way.
- Ensure you have a good, recent backup available. Make sure the backup in stored in a safe, waterproof location, and ideally one that is accessible under emergency conditions.
- Make sure firm staff know all their remote access options. This will allow users to continue to work if they can’t physically make it to the office but the systems remain online. Provide them a printed copy of the remote access information to have on hand. Also remind staff to take home laptops and mobile broadband cards when they leave for the weekend. If they will be connecting to an e-mail continuity service, make sure they know the proper login credentials
- Review your disaster recovery options. If you have a reliable DR option, it may be a good idea to put it in place before the actual event. Doing so after the storm in the event of an outage may prove much more difficult.
- Shut down as many systems as you can. This will obviously vary based on your firm’s business requirements and your faith in your automatic shutdown methodology. If you’ve tested your UPS solution recently and know it will bring systems down gracefully in the event of a power outage, you probably don’t need to go this route; if you have any doubts, consider a preemptive power-off to prevent a hard shutdown of your entire network. Your site may not lose power at all, but if it does and you don’t have a backup generator the outage will likely far outlast your UPS’s capacity.
- Ensure you have the ability to remote back in when power is restored. Review your VPN and out-of-band access if you haven’t used them in a while to make sure everything is still configured properly.
- Move exposed hardware out of harms way. Depending on where your IT infrastructure exists in your building, it may be in danger of being exposed to the elements. Get hardware as far away from windows as possible, cover it if you think there’s a chance of it getting wet from above, and elevate it if it’s located on the first floor or basement.
- Power off any unprotected devices. This is especially important with your workstations, which often are plugged directly into wall sockets. If you want to go the extra step, physically unplug devices from their power source. Power surges during a hurricane are notorious for damaging electronics.
- Keep your cell phone plugged in whenever possible. Instruct your IT staff to do the same. You’ll be grateful that you did if the power actually goes out and you need to get in touch with someone.
- Keep a printed emergency contact list with you at all times. Don’t rely on the contact list on your electronic devices.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:
- Obey any local emergency notifications and evacuation orders. I can’t stress the importance of this point enough. If you’ve been told to evacuate, there’s a very good reason. By sticking around, you’re likely putting yourself in harm’s way. Stay away until you’ve been told it’s safe to return.
These storms are highly unpredictable and highly dangerous. Hurricane Irene could change course and miss the Northeast entirely, or it could be the storm we talk about for years. Either way, the best thing to do is to take measures as far in advance of the storm as possible and keep yourself safe when the storm actually hits.
-Danny (in addition to being a Senior Technical Consultant at Kraft Kennedy, Danny is a firefighter for the Northwest Volunteer Fire Department in Houston, TX. Ed.)
PS – Check here for some great additional info on general hurricane preparedness.