Disaster Recovery Planning 101: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Business Running

Disaster recovery plan, also known as DRP, is a documented set of procedures that aim to recover data, IT infrastructure, and business operations after a catastrophic event. The goal of a disaster recovery plan is to minimize downtime, mitigate data loss, and limit the impact of a disaster on an organization’s continuity of operations.

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from natural disasters like wildfire, hurricanes, and earthquakes to human-caused disasters such as cyberattacks, terrorism, or human errors. The impact of disasters can be devastating, both in terms of financial and reputational losses for an organization. For this reason, it is crucial for every organization, regardless of size, industry, or location, to have a well-defined disaster recovery plan in place.

A disaster recovery plan is a multi-step process that includes planning, testing, and execution. The following sections will provide more details about disaster recovery planning and its key components.

## Disaster Recovery Planning Process

Disaster recovery planning is an ongoing process that should involve all stakeholders in an organization, including management, IT personnel, security teams, and business continuity professionals. The following are the essential steps in a typical disaster recovery planning process.

### Step 1: Business Impact Analysis

The first step in disaster recovery planning is to conduct a business impact analysis (BIA) to identify critical business processes, data, and systems that are required for an organization’s survival and recovery. The BIA should also identify the impact of a disruption or loss of these critical resources, including financial, reputational, and operational implications.

### Step 2: Risk Assessment

The next step is to conduct a risk assessment that identifies potential threats and vulnerabilities that could cause a disruption to critical business processes and systems. The risk assessment should consider internal and external threats, including natural disasters, human errors, cyber threats, and terrorism.

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### Step 3: Disaster Recovery Strategy

Based on the BIA and risk assessment, the next step is to develop a disaster recovery strategy that defines the recovery objectives, timelines, and procedures for restoring critical business processes, data, and systems. The strategy should also specify the roles and responsibilities of personnel involved in the recovery process.

### Step 4: Disaster Recovery Plan

The disaster recovery plan should document the recovery procedures, including backup and recovery procedures, restoration of IT infrastructure, communication protocols, and testing procedures. The plan should also include procedures for communicating with stakeholders, such as employees, customers, and vendors.

### Step 5: Testing and Maintenance

The final step is to test and maintain the disaster recovery plan regularly. Testing should include tabletop exercises, functional testing, and full-scale testing to ensure that the plan is effective and up-to-date. The plan should also be updated regularly to reflect changes in the organization’s IT infrastructure, personnel, and business processes.

## Key Components of a Disaster Recovery Plan

A disaster recovery plan should include several key components, including:

### Business Continuity Plan

A business continuity plan (BCP) is a subset of the disaster recovery plan that focuses on the continuation of critical business processes during a disaster. The BCP should define alternative processes and procedures for maintaining business operations during a disruption.

### Backup and Recovery Procedures

Backup and recovery procedures are critical components of a disaster recovery plan. These procedures should define the backup schedule, retention periods, storage locations, and testing procedures. The recovery procedures should include the restoration of data and IT infrastructure.

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### Communication Protocols

Effective communication is crucial during a disaster. The disaster recovery plan should include communication protocols for notifying stakeholders, such as employees, customers, vendors, and the media. The plan should also define the roles and responsibilities of personnel responsible for communication.

### Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) and Recovery Point Objectives (RPO)

The recovery time objective (RTO) defines the maximum allowable downtime for critical business processes, while the recovery point objective (RPO) defines the maximum allowable data loss. The disaster recovery plan should include these objectives and define procedures for meeting them.

### Alternative Worksite

In the event of a disaster, an organization may need to relocate its operations to an alternative worksite. The disaster recovery plan should identify the alternative worksite and define procedures for moving equipment, personnel, and materials.

## Real-World Examples of Disaster Recovery Plan

Several real-world examples demonstrate the importance of having a disaster recovery plan in place.

### Target Data Breach

In 2013, Target experienced a massive data breach that compromised the personal and financial information of 110 million customers. Target’s failure to respond quickly and effectively to the breach resulted in significant financial and reputational losses.

Following the data breach, Target implemented a comprehensive disaster recovery plan that included improved security measures, regular employee training, and better incident response procedures.

### Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, which struck in 2005, caused widespread devastation, including power outages, flooding, and destruction of critical infrastructure. Many businesses in the affected areas did not have disaster recovery plans in place, resulting in significant downtime and financial losses.

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Organizations that had effective disaster recovery plans in place were better able to recover from the disaster and continue their operations. For example, The Boeing Company, which has a manufacturing facility in New Orleans, evacuated its employees before the hurricane and was able to resume production within a few weeks.

### 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, resulted in the loss of life and significant damage to critical infrastructure in New York City. Many organizations had disaster recovery plans in place, which enabled them to recover quickly and resume operations.

For example, Goldman Sachs, which had offices in the World Trade Center, had an effective disaster recovery plan in place that involved backup procedures and alternate worksites. Within days of the attacks, Goldman Sachs was able to resume its operations.

## Conclusion

A disaster recovery plan is a critical component of an organization’s business continuity strategy. It provides a roadmap for recovery after a catastrophic event, allowing organizations to minimize downtime, mitigate data loss, and limit the impact of a disaster on their operations. By following the key components of a disaster recovery plan and testing it regularly, organizations can ensure that they are prepared to recover from any disaster that may come their way.

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