Disaster-Proofing ideas

The following copyrighted article is from "Disaster-Proof Your Site" by Buffy Vouglas, Contingency Planning & Management, June, 1997, Vol II No. 6.

Disaster-proofing your site. Is it totally possible? Probably not. But it is contingency planning's fundamental goal. And to that end we offer this guide from a mitigation perspective. We've isolated a dozen essential areas to address before a disaster strikes or a dilemma arises. Make disaster-proofing a priority now, and beat the odds when trouble comes calling.

Power Continuity

Power outages can cause business disruption as well as equipment damage. To protect your business, investigate power continuity options.

Uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) are available as standby units, which guard against brownouts and blackouts by pulling power from the battery; line-interactive models, which provide battery power during blackouts and protect against surges and sags; and on-line designs, which isolate equipment from any type of power disturbance by converting incoming power from AC to DC and then back to AC before exiting the UPS.

Other alternatives include generators, power conditioners, voltage regulators, and surge suppressors.

Emergency Supplies

Don't overlook employee needs. Invest in the appropriate supplies to ensure personnel safety, and make sure they're distributed throughout the building in case typical storage areas are rendered inaccessible.

First aid/medical kits contain supplies to treat cuts, lacerations, and broken bones, and may include gauze, splints, pads, tapes, ointments, towelettes, bandages, and latex gloves. Evacuation/search and rescue kits include items such as light sticks, Swiss Army knives, stretchers, goggles, leather gloves, wrecking bars, small hand tools, and duct tape. Survival kits generally include a 72-hour supply of food and water, water purification tablets, personal hygiene products, blankets, air matress and/or sleeping bag, radio, batteries, emergency lighting and first aid supplies.

Planning Tools/Testing

Planning tools including business impact analysis (BIA) software, planning software, and site selection software will walk you through threat assessment and planning.

BIA software assists in identifying the ramifications of company resource loss by automating measurement of loss effects and escalating losses over time. Comprehensive planning software is designed to help construct a business recovery plan by automating the planning process and querying users for necessary information. Some software packages combine the two elements for an integrated analysis and planning proces.

Site selection software helps companies in search of a site avoid areas prone to natural and manmade disasters by evaluating risk based on statistical analysis of potential threats.

Once your plan is in place, with or without the help of software, budget time for testing. Testing will reveal flaws and allow you the opportunity to fix, fine-tune, and periodically update plans. Include as many employees as possible in plan tests so that they can act on and then internalize recovery roles.

Window Film

Window security film--a thin sheet of clear, tinted, or reflective polyester laminated to the interior surface of a pane of glass--can protect against damage due to natural and manmade disasters, prevent employee injury, and reduce heating and cooling costs. Graffiti protection film, applied to the exterior of a pane of glass, prevents vandalism damage.

Vital Records/Data Protection

Inventory all records, determine which are vital, and identify which departments or employees are responsible for each. Implement a reasonable schedule to ensure that records and data are updated periodically, and determine records retention requirements.

Records needed for more than a year should be stored in paper form or on microfilm. Some documents, such as contracts and deeds, must be retained in their original form. Store paper records in acid-free cardboard cartons.

Safeguard electronic data with appropriate backup strategies. Options include tape backup, RAID systems, electronic vaulting, and mirroring. However, magnetic media are not recommended for long-term storage.

Once data is backed up, store it in three geographically-dispersed locations. Be sure that all storage facilities are secure, climate-controlled environments that can support electronic data capture and retrieval. Investigate fire-proof and water-proof filing cabinets and disk storage containers for on-site storage.

Site Security

Security systems are available at a cost feasible for every business and can save users money in the long run.

A basic alarm system frightens intruders by activating a siren, sounding an alert or recorded message, or turning on lights. Look for a model that is easy to monitor and expandable. Some alarms incorporate access control capabilities such as access cards, passwords, and biometrics. These elements can be part of an integrated alarm system of purchased independently. Surveillance is generally achieved through use of video cameras.

If purchased individually, be sure that components are compatible and can be easily integrated. Also, check out portable security systems designed for temporary use and easily installed.

Human Resources

Avoid disruption in the form of an absent, unqualified, or shell-shocked workforce by adressing succession plans and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

Maintain leadership continuity and performance levels by developing a succession plan covering CEO, top management, and anyone whose contribution is essential to business goals. Identify competencies and skills required, and develop those who exhibit leadership potential via coaching and mentoring.

Establish EAPs to fortify employees' mental well-being and to mitigate potential workplace violence situations. Back up EAP expertise by contracting with independent crisis counseling specialists equipped to offer counseling in severe cases and to augment crisis response.

Fire Protection/Prevention

A well-designed automatic sprinkler system is both a reliable and cost-effective means to protect your company's assets from fire. Sprinkler systems will extinguish or control a blaze, limit smoke migration, and minimize damage. Conduct periodic checks to be sure sprinkler valves are open.

Also procure and then regularly inspect fire extinguishers, hoses, alarms, fire pumps, water supply tanks, fire-retardant fabric coverings, and fire doors. While all fire-related products can be purchased individually, integration is essential to rapid response, particularly in the case of notification and extinguishing equipment and systems.

Computer Security

Computer security can be compromised by employees or by those who hack their way into your system. Educate employees to prevent accidental security breaches, and fortify your system to discourage hackers. Step one in effective computer security involves development of a comprehensive policy addressing access rights, Internet guidelines, and confidentiality issues.

Firewalls guard a trusted network against an untrusted network by offering protection from undesired inbound traffic and out-bound traffic that isn't business-related. Access controls include sophisticated biometrics systems and more typical password options. Be sure the latter are changed frequently and chosen wisely.


Maintaining both voice and data telecommunications systems continuity is key to business survival and success.

Voice continuity options include custom calling features such as call-forwarding, three-way calling, and speed dialing; emergency or alternate route services; flexible network configuration service, such as variable long distance carriers or bandwidth allocation services; automated call distribution systems; Centrex; ISDN services; calling cards; voicemail; cellular phones; and telecommuting.

Data network continuity options include private lines; flexible network configuration services; ISDN services; SONET networks and alternate wire centers; and switched multi-megabit data services.


An educated workforce is best equipped to prevent manmade disasters and mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Hammering home contingency planning concepts can be accomplished via seminars, conferences, training manuals, and videos.

Seminars and conferences may serve as refreshers or introduce new concepts. Training manuals and videos can be either specific or general and are an effective way to provide introductory overviews to large groups.

A myriad of business continuity issues--including computer security, building evacuation, labor relations, data protection, and crisis communications--should be part of coporate-wide education programs.

Equipment Securing

Prevent toppling, reduce water damage, halt the emission of hazardous substances, and minimize theft with a bevy of equipment securing devices available for office use.

Particularly useful in earthquake-prone areas are restraining devices that prevent items from falling from racks or shelves and computer securing clips that fasten hardware to the desktop. Computer securing devices also come with locks that prevent or discourage theft.

Water-proof, flame-retardant covers can be used to protect computer, telecommunications, and other sensitive electronic equipment. Computer hardware safes are also available.

Other preventive measures to consider: brace piping, bolt groups of filing cabinets together, provide trenches or dikes where liquids might spill, and install shock-operated shutoff valves for hazardous substances.

Harold Longley htg@huul.com