How to Ensure Disaster Readiness as Hurricane Matthew Approaches
Hurricane Matthew is expected to make U.S. landfall starting today continuing into the weekend, with forecasters predicting it will strengthen to a Category 4 storm by the time it hits the Southeast. If you're an MSP operating in Florida, coastal Georgia or the Carolinas, now's the time to reach out to clients and enact your business continuity plans.

There's a lot of guesswork in tracking severe storms, but you can't wait until Hurricane Matthew hits to respond. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Your clients rely on you for proactive IT support and disaster readiness. As their trusted advisor, you always need to provide them with peace of mind and the assurance that their data will be protected and accessible in the event of an emergency. And make no mistake, that's the situation they're facing. In fact, Governor Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida. Indeed, residents from other impacted states are evacuating, many under direct orders.

Expect That Your Clients Will Need Guidance

Understandably, your clients may have a lot of questions and concerns. We've seen the devastation Hurricane Matthew has already caused, and you have to remember that the people you do business with have lives outside of the office. They have families to take care of, groceries to stock up on, SUVs to pack, etc. There's an excellent chance these small- and medium-sized (SMB) business owners haven't even considered the impact the hurricane could have on their business operations. Maybe they underestimate the severity of the storm, which will likely result in flooding, hurricane-force winds (74+ mph), structural damage, downed trees, power outages, and maybe even tornadoes. People that fall into this category might think they can return to work within a few days. Or perhaps a sizable population of your client base is in full-on panic mode, either worrying about data loss or extended downtime and doubting the likelihood of their business's survival. Anxiety permeates in crisis scenarios like this, and you should anticipate uncertainty among your clients. 

Reassure Them with Clear and Consistent Communication

Don't wait for your clients to come to you! You say a lot when you don't say anything. In order to deliver proactive, stellar service, you have to anticipate your customers' needs. In this situation, they need to know you have their back. Your disaster recovery (DR) plan should already include a crisis communications section, detailing how you'll address disaster events with employees, vendors, the media and your clients. For the purposes of this post, we'll just focus on the latter.

As soon as you can, determine the best medium to use to reach out to your clients. We recommend using email, but you may prefer discussing the matter over the phone since it can be more personal. Whatever channel you choose, plan what you're going to say first. Clear and consistent communication is especially important in IT disaster situations, and the message can get muddled when it isn't carefully devised. Rather than allow anything to be misinterpreted or the value of your business continuity services to get lost in the mix, outline what your clients need to know. Reassure them that you and your expert team are taking the hurricane threat very seriously and that they don't have to worry. You won't let a system failure or the cost of downtime shut down their business! Your business continuity solution is designed to quickly revive their network and have their employees operating productively again in the shortest time possible. Even if their physical location and hardware is compromised when Hurricane Matthew strikes, your data centers will safely house their data and records so they can resume operations remotely. Lead with this messaging, and carry it through all of your communication channels. That means getting the word out on your social media accounts, with the understanding that you should have someone on your team ready to respond to any social reactions or inquiries in real time. And even if you decide to call clients, follow up with a recap email for good measure. This way, you can share educational materials that may answer any of their remaining questions – FAQ sheets make for great assets! Additionally, you can provide logistics, like how and when your clients can expect to know when they'll be operational again. It's also worth noting that you should have an ongoing dialogue with clients, sending several communications throughout the DR process to keep everybody informed.  

Execute Your Business Continuity Plan

Now's the time to act. If you offer backup and disaster recovery (BDR) services, you and your clients should be familiar with their DR plans. It's time to put all of that careful BDR preparation and testing into practice and execute your business continuity plan. Now, DR plans vary for every MSP, but ideally, yours should have the following components, at bare minimum: 

Plan Activation

  • Sets criteria for applying the DR plan
  • Identifies individuals who determine if the plan is launched

Team Roles and Responsibilities

  • Defines appropriate response teams and outlines roles expected of all individuals
  • Lists contact information for each person
  • Identifies escalation policy or supplies call tree if designated lead cannot be reached

Results and Revisions

  • Documents state of client’s IT infrastructure after the disaster
  • Inventories which IT systems went offline during the emergency
  • Includes revisions and updates made to the DR plan

Following the protocol you've already laid out will yield a smoother DR process for all who are involved. With the threat of Hurricane Matthew imminent, your DR plan should already have been activated. Now, it's time to go to work (if you've not already done so). Assemble your various response teams and review what's expected from them as a group and as individuals. Encourage them to ask questions now, so they're not scrambling for answers later. Ensure the physical safety of employees as well as the devices and files you should already have identified were the most critical to remove from the premises in anticipation of the storm. Then, document everything so you can conduct a post-mortem with all who are involved, reviewing what did and didn't go well and updating your DR plans for improved processes and communications in the future. 

As Hurricane Matthew advances toward the coast, we want those of our readers impacted by the storm to know our thoughts are with them. And we'll echo Georgia Governor Nathan Deal in urging all who are affected to "remain calm but vigilant."