How to Minimize the Impact of Severe Weather on IT Systems

Every year, severe weather events result in human and economic losses. While there is no way to stop these events, companies can minimize their impact on IT systems. Here are some ways you can prepare your IT systems and your employees for weather disasters.

A recent report has confirmed what many people have suspected: 2020 was plagued by severe weather. In the United States alone, a record-breaking 22 weather and climate disasters earned the unwanted distinction of causing $1 billion or more in damages. Combined, these 22 events resulted in 262 deaths and $95 billion in damages.

The severe weather does not seem to be letting up. Winter storm Uri — the devastating storm that hit Texas and several other states in February 2021 — resulted in many deaths. The total damage and economic loss caused by this storm is expected to be between $45 and $50 billion.

Although snowstorms, thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes, and other severe weather events are unstoppable, you can take some measures to minimize the damage they might cause to your IT systems. Plus, you can make some preparations that will help your company recover more quickly from these events. Here are some of the ways you can prepare your IT systems and your employees for weather disasters.

 

Minimize the Risk of Physical Damage to IT Devices and Equipment

You can take measures to minimize the risk of physical damage to your business’s IT devices and equipment. For example, you might consider using:

  • Surge protectors. Power surges — sudden, temporary increases in voltage in electrical circuits — can damage electronic devices. You can use primary surge protectors (installed where the power lines enter the building) or secondary surge protectors (installed between the power source and an electronic device) to protect against power surges, including those caused by storms. (They will not, however, protect IT devices and equipment against direct lightning strikes.) Surge protectors also protect against the small power surges that occur multiple times a day, which can gradually damage electronic devices’ internal circuitry.
  • An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) solution. An unexpected power outage can be more than just an inconvenience. If a computer is running when a blackout occurs, the machine’s applications and operating system might shut down improperly, which can cause data loss and file corruption. To mitigate the risk, you can use UPS solutions designed to provide backup power to workstations, servers, and other electronic devices. These solutions give users the time they need to properly shut down their devices when a power outage occurs. Some solutions even include software that automatically shuts down the device when it detects the switch to the backup power.
  • A commercial standby generator. If you want to keep your lights on and IT systems running during a blackout, you might want to invest in a commercial standby generator (aka backup generator). Installed outside a business, this type of generator will automatically begin supplying electricity when it senses that a power outage has occurred. The generator will continue to provide electricity until the main power is restored, at which time the generator goes back into standby mode.

 

Develop an IT Disaster Recovery Plan

You should develop an IT disaster recovery plan that includes information on how to prepare for and recover from severe weather events. It should contain separate strategies for each IT system component (e.g., software, hardware, data) in case an event impacts only part of the IT infrastructure.

Testing the IT disaster recovery procedures covered in the plan is important. This will serve two purposes. First, the tests will help you determine how well the plan will work in a real severe weather event. Equally important, these tests will let your employees gain experience using the IT disaster recovery plan. That way, if there is a real weather crisis, the plan’s implementation will go more smoothly and employees will be less likely to panic.

If you do not have the time or resources to develop and test an IT disaster recovery plan for your business, using a disaster recovery service provider might be an option. These providers use cloud resources to protect companies’ IT system components from disruptions caused by storms and other types of disasters. Besides developing and documenting the IT disaster recovery plan, the providers help businesses implement and test the disaster recovery procedures to make sure they are effective.

 

Make Sure Communication Will Be Possible

It is important for management to stay in touch with employees during and after a severe weather event. However, this might prove difficult if the main communication system is down. For instance, suppose employees normally use your company’s voice over IP (VoIP) phone system to call each other. If lightning strikes a nearby transformer and causes a power outage in your business, the VoIP phone system will not work. Thus, it is prudent to keep a list of employee contact information that includes multiple ways to contact each employee at work and at home (e.g., personal mobile phone number, landline phone number at home, business phone extension). You should have an offsite copy of the contact list in case the onsite list cannot be accessed.

Similarly, you might want to compile contact lists for your customers, suppliers, and other groups with which you do business. That way, if a severe weather event affects your company for an extended period of time, you will be able to keep your customers, suppliers, and others up to date on the status using emails, a mass text messaging service, or another method of communication.

 

Take Measures to Ensure Employees’ Safety

Companies need to take measures to ensure the safety of employees if they are at work when severe weather or another type of disaster strikes. Ways to do this include providing emergency preparedness training and assembling one or more disaster kits.

In the emergency preparedness training, you should let employees know about your company’s evacuation plan, emergency procedures, and other information they need to know so they will be more prepared than scared during a crisis. If this training is given in small groups, you can take this opportunity to go over each group’s responsibilities during an emergency. For instance, you can review the IT disaster recovery plan when providing emergency preparedness training to the IT staff.

A business disaster kit should include emergency provisions such as first aid supplies, bottled water (or water purification tablets), nonperishable food, blankets, flashlights, and spare batteries. It should also include communication essentials, such as a radio to get weather updates, your employee contact list, a mobile phone and its charger, and a hand-crank mobile phone charger in case of an extended blackout. The kit is also a good place to store documents that you will need for your company’s recovery efforts, such as a copy of your IT disaster recovery plan.

You will need to check each disaster kit regularly to make sure it will prove useful when a severe weather event occurs. During the checks, you should rotate the food and water stock to make sure it is fresh, replace any expired items (e.g., expired batteries or first aid supplies), and make sure all the equipment and devices work.

 

Now Is the Time to Prepare

Severe weather can strike at any time with little notice. As a result, companies should start preparing their IT systems and their employees for weather disasters sooner rather than later. We are here if you need assistance with any of the preparations.

 

2018_08_170100 – lightning flickr photo by Gwydion M. Williams shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license