Business Continuity Planning: The Impact of Recent Disasters

In his book Business Continuity Planning for Data Centers and Systems: A Strategic Implementation Guide, Ronald H. Bowman details how recent crises have changed the way businesses manage their disaster recovery plans:

As we discuss interruptions and consequential damages, the overwhelming evidence of recent and large interruptions include, but are not limited to, the first World Trade Center attack, the Seaport Substation outage, the Chicago Loop flood, the second World Trade Center attack, the eastern regional blackout, and several 100-year storms in the last 10 years.

If you wanted to drill just a little deeper, you would find that the cause of most data center outages is simply human intervention and willful misconduct and sabotage. These events account for almost 90% of short-term outages and 80% of long-term outages. Of the outages, 70% are caused by humans, 21% are human error, and 9% are management or process related. These numbers are inclusive of information technology and data centers.

In this book, we spend most of our time considering outside plant (OSP) and some inside plant (ISP) consequences of planned or unplanned outages. What we have learned about recent acts of God and human intervention is that although we can make assets bulletproof, storms can make roads impassable. Telecommunications systems that were designed and maintained by the U.S. government for some 40 years ago have been overlooked, and overbooked. The legacy infrastructure is undermaintained or antiquated in many parts of the country. These legacy systems were not built with the same levels of redundancy or burstability as those currently being built in the private sector. There is a site in Greensboro, North Carolina, which is the best available in the United States: its design ISP and OSP is to military specifications—it has six 9s on one feeder and seven 9s on the other.

Regarding the human component of continuity, if personnel were designated to go to recovery solution sites but were either unable or unwilling to participate, the corporate user needs able to get “willing” employees to execute or perform. Remote solutions increase people’s willingness to work, respond, and rise to the occasion. An employee who is focused on the welfare and quality of life of immediate family members is not going to be responsive or effective. This was the thinking that developed from white paper 2. Recovery needs to be far enough from an event that people can treat it as a media event, not a personal event. If too close, ISP improvements may not operate properly due to local events or because generators run out of fuel and roads are impassable.

Site selection for the stand-alone or bunker scenario has become more exacting. The unsettled part of the process is that it has a level of interest in direct relationship to current events and, particularly, media coverage. As a result, these consequences are permanently etched into our minds:

  • When the first World Trade Center attack happened, Manhattan was no longer a viable location for a second site.
  • When the second World Trade Center attack occurred, regional selection was employed away from lower Manhattan.
  • When the dirty bomb concern was peaking (remember anthrax), the plume of radioactivity reaching a 25- to 40-mile radius around the city made that area undesirable. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission “kill zone” is equivalent to 18 Euclidean miles.
  • When the aircraft crashed in New York, airplane flight-path approaches and take-offs were of unique concern.
  • Nuclear power plants were determined to be vulnerable. Forty-mile rings of potential radioactivity were placed around them, and the areas to the east of all rings are considered at high risk due to prevailing winds. Historically, potassium iodide pills have been distributed to humans living within an 18-mile ring of nuclear reactors and wastewater (the kill zone).
  • When the regional power outage occurred, its extended duration was realized. The outage highlighted the inconvenience to humans of not being able to access public transportation, automatic teller machines, and sustenance elements.

Because of the reality of recent events and the media spin on them, as well as users’ own war stories, a floating emphasis on possible outages has had an impact on recent legislation, rules, and compliance for business continuity.


From Business Continuity Planning for Data Centers and Systems: A Strategic Implementation Guide by Ronald H. Bowman. Copyright 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.