Five Disaster Recovery Lessons from Atlanta’s Snow Storm

Five Disaster Recovery Lessons from Atlanta’s Snow Storm

January 31

The city of Atlanta, Georgia was recently affected by a winter storm. While the total snow accumulation was reported at only about two inches, the entire city was effectively shut down, people were stranded on interstates, kids were stuck overnight at school, and several people even died. Such a small weather event doesn’t seem like a calamity, but because of the city’s poor planning, it was.

Really, Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of experience with winter weather but they aren’t exactly strangers either, as evidenced by the storm that caused similar levels of devastation in 2011.This time, however, Atlanta seemed to be prepared and had purchased a number of snow plow trucks. But when the weather actually hit, they were more or less sitting on their hands.

According to a CNN report, Georgia governor Nathan Deal defended the city’s actions by saying they had planned for the weather based on reports stating that the city would see a light weather event and would only receive small accumulation, when in fact, the National Weather Service put the Atlanta metro area under a winter storm warning at 3:38 a.m., Tuesday. For some reason Atlanta officials hoped for the best, rather than closing certain roads and issuing warnings as cities like New Orleans did. In any event, the whole debacle really points to a severe lack of communication and an inability to put a plan into action. The city didn’t err on the side of caution, and instead the whole city paid the price.

Luckily for us, there are some helpful business continuity and disaster planning tips we can glean from Atlanta’s poor planning.

1. Caution saves lives and money

As we mentioned, Atlanta was supposedly more prepared for this type of event than they were when nasty weather hit in 2011, but because they didn’t consider this particular storm much of a threat, they didn’t take many precautions. While it’s true that you can’t plan for every single thing, it’s certainly worth trying to prepare for the worst if possible. With regard to your business, being ready for various disasters ahead of time is key, and being a little overly cautious can definitely save you a lot of money and keep your employees safe.

2. If you’ve got a plan, be ready to implement it

Having a plan is one thing, but it’s quite another to be able to implement it. While Atlanta prepared for this storm by purchasing and having at the ready an assortment of snowplows, they didn’t take precautions ahead of time by having the plows salt the roads to prepare for icy conditions, and the plows didn’t even hit the roads until the storm had already swept through. Some drivers reported that they sat in their vehicles for upwards of twelve hours before seeing a salting truck or snowplow. If you’ve got a plan, be ready to actually put into action when you need it.

3. Prepare for the worst, prudently

CNN meteorologist Chad Meyers had a valid point in explaining that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Atlanta to have 500 snow plows on standby when they only get one snow event every three or so years. He’s right, but at the same time, when you need emergency equipment, you need it. There’s a similar problem for businesses. If they have a critical piece of equipment like, say, a domain server, it’s useful to have an extra one for failover, but not if that means they have an expensive piece of equipment just sitting around. The best solution lands somewhere in the middle so not too much money is spent, but everything can be put right if there’s an emergency. Some MSPs, in fact, offer a loaner server to their clients so that the client doesn’t have to pay for the equipment.  Whatever you do, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got some type of plan that can cover most of the bases.

4. Communication is paramount

According to most reports, the winter storm hit Atlanta after people had arrived at work and children had arrived at school. Many people were dismissed as the storm hit or just after, but by then it was much too late. The morning itself probably seemed fairly normal, but with a winter storm advisory already issued, a wise measure would have been for officials to inform citizens that they should stay home if they can to avoid any storm trouble on the road. Of course, they didn’t, but that’s not to say a business itself can’t warn its employees and urge them to stay home rather than be at risk. Communicating this type of message to a large number of people can be a tricky thing, but it can be essential in disaster scenarios, and is another thing to include in a good disaster recovery or business continuity plan.

5. Make the most of staying home

A lot of trouble would have been averted if Atlanta’s citizens had stayed home during the storm, but at the same time that means a lot of businesses aren’t getting anything done. Obviously businesses don’t want employees at risk in bad weather, but they might not be able to afford losing a whole day of productivity. That’s why a good part of any business continuity plan includes methods for employees to get work done from home during these types of temporary emergencies, as well as methods to communicate with employees before they make the journey towards work.

When you’re talking about preparedness, thinking ahead and using caution are the important concepts to live by. As this weather event shows, even people responsible for an entire city can fail, and when they do, a lot more people are affected. Take a moment to learn from these events when you’re putting together your own backup and disaster recovery plan.

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