Calgary flood 2013 brings business continuity issues to the surface

The recent natural disaster continues to cause problems for residents and companies throughout the city. Use this 5-point plan to prepare your response plan

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The impact of the Calgary flood on local businesses and communities was devastating.

The CBC reported that the “flooding in Alberta will cost Calgary’s economy billions of dollars and affect the Canadian economy as a whole”. Tom MacKinnon, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets, also “estimates that direct losses from the flooding will be between $3 billion and $5 billion. That is at least 10 times higher than the losses incurred during the floods of 2005.”

At Allstream, we have vital infrastructure in Calgary and its surrounding areas, as well as switches in Calgary that carry traffic through to the west coast. Our #1 priority – both during the flood and at all times – is network integrity, which means ensuring that our customers can rely on our network so they can do business 24/7/365.

While we had extensive business continuity plans in place before the flood, we were surprised when one of our major sites flooded and we lost two generators. We needed to rely on battery power until another generator arrived from Edmonton, which was delayed due to a military convoy heading to Calgary to assist the city with the ‘flood fight’. We are grateful to the staff assigned to Industry Canada’s Telecommunication incident/emergency management operations that provided all telecom carriers membered with the Canadian Telecom Emergency Preparedness Association (CETPA) with regular incident reports and on-the-ground support to ensure access to restricted areas.

There is No Such Thing as a Low-Risk Business

Unfortunately, no location is “low risk” when it comes to outages and disasters, such as floods and loss of commercial power (electricity). The business disruptions caused by these disasters can be both large and small, as also seen with the Toronto floods. However, you can put the same business continuity measures in place to better protect your business. As a business continuity practitioner, I would suggest that your business continuity plan includes a viable flood response plan if you are in an area prone to floods or near lakes, rivers and larger streams, as ‘flash floods’ can turn a normal day info a disaster within moments.

Creating and implementing a flood response plan is one aspect to mitigate the risks associated with protecting your business against natural threats. This can significantly reduce your financial losses, property damage and interruptions to your business. It can also help you fulfill your responsibility to protect your employees and the environment, as well as deliver products and services to your customers. This in turn enhances your credibility with customers and the community.

5 Keys to a Successful Flood Plan 

Here are five things to consider when you develop a flood plan:

  • Understand your business. The first thing you must do when considering a flood plan is take stock of your business. What could fail in the event of a flood? What services must be preserved throughout an emergency? Who supports these services? What infrastructure do you need to support these functions? The value of business continuity planning is that it promotes the safeguarding of your business interests by identifying potential risks, their impacts and the best mitigative responses. Proactive pre-planning reduces the total impact and speeds your recovery from all kinds of incidents.
  • Make it easy for your employees to work from any location and on any device. If your office is closed due to a flood, your employees should be able to work from home or other locations. This could mean setting up alternate offices in nearby areas that aren’t as prone to flooding.

In addition to providing space, you should also empower employees with the technology they need to communicate throughout a disaster. Unified communications lets workers collaborate from any location – using the same tools they would use in the office. This not only helps keep you up-and-running during a flood, but also makes your employees more productive overall. Allowing employees to use cloud services and their own devices can also make it easier for them to access important files and applications throughout an emergency.

  • Put controls in place to minimize damage and downtime. It’s crucial to have fire and flood protection, as well as business interruption insurance. In some cases you may need backup generators in case you lose electricity and your main generator goes down that support both office and IT production environments. It is important to learn from lessons learned, for example do not locate generators in basement that might be area prone to flooding –this include even broken water pipes. Replication services can also ensure that you don’t lose any vital business data in the event that your network or office is compromised.
  • Consider your external vendors.  When you re-negotiate or form relationships with new vendors, it’s important to make sure they can deliver your services when you need them. For example, if your web hosting vendor stores its servers in a basement, you are at risk that your site may go down in the event of a flood.
  • Train your recovery team members. It’s essential that every employee, particularly those on your emergency recovery response team, knows how to act in the event of a flood or any incident that can impact your business. Review roles, responsibilities and actions to be taken on a regular basis to ensure that each employee is prepared.

Once you go through this list of considerations, create a basic flood response plan. Your plan doesn’t need to be perfect. You just need to write down your biggest risks and how you will respond. Then, exercise your plan once a year to make sure that it’s viable and that you’re not forgetting anything.

You can’t predict an emergency, but you can plan for one.

Be ready for anything: download ‘Business Continuity Planning for SIP Trunking: Ensuring Critical Connections,’ a white paper from Allstream.


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