Certified Public Accountant John Sterling looks at damaged boxes of records removed from his Crisfield, Md. office after superstorm Sandy

(Photo by AP Photo / Alex Brandon)

Certified Public Accountant John Sterling looks at damaged boxes of records removed from his Crisfield, Md. office after superstorm Sandy

(Photo by AP Photo / Alex Brandon)

All Wet

Would your vital documents be safe in the face of disaster?

Back Article Jan 1, 2013 By Andrea Kennedy

On the Staten Island waterfront, long-time beloved Italian eatery Puglia by the Sea rises from the waves with floor to ceiling windows offering dramatic ocean views. White tablecloths sit foreground to a grand cherry-and-brass bar, and patrons regale over stately plated mussels, antipasto and filet mignon. Or, they did. Until Hurricane Sandy.

“My back dining room is gone,” says Puglia’s grief-stricken owner, Ben Mancuso. “My kitchen is gone. The inside is all gutted out.”

Mancuso took over the restaurant just 10 months before the storm hit. Though determined to rebuild — a process he estimates could easily top $1 million — the situation looks so dire that even the prospect of insurance payments, FEMA support and loans seems slow and insubstantial.

“I don’t think anyone could ever be ready for something like this,” he says. “I lost my business, my future, everything. I lost it for me and my children.”

Among his losses, he says, were flooded electronics and at least one computer server containing sensitive data. “All my computers downstairs were wiped out. … At this point in time, I have no idea what data I lost in the storm.”

Facing devastation like Mancuso’s, business owners don’t want data loss at top of mind. But natural disasters pose an underlying threat to all businesses, with smaller operations running an especially high risk of not recovering. 

Charmagne Husmann, a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) public information officer in Sacramento’s Office of Disaster Assistance, says 25 percent of businesses never recover following a major disaster. 

“Small business owners put their heart and soul into their operation,” she says. “For them not to have a disaster preparedness plan can be the matter of life or death for their business.”

Husmann, who also served as a disaster loan officer pre-Katrina, advises owners to hold annual meetings with insurance agents regarding hazard coverage and consistently back up the digital data imperative to restoring business operations. And she’s not talking about a dinky external hard drive.

“Records and documents really make the business run,” she says. “Backing those up, making sure you’re testing the backup and maintaining off-site availability (is crucial).”

The solution, experts say, is the cloud. John Pyron, sales director at Sacramento’s Synap Business & Technology Solutions Inc., implements cloud conversions for clients by developing backup and disaster recovery plans (BDRs), a key component to ensuring sensitive documents don’t do a disappearing act when disaster strikes.

“Basically, it backs up your network as it exists right now,” Pyron says. “It backs up in real time, and then either several times a day or once a night it will synchronize to an off-site cloud hosting provider.”

BDRs store documents and transactions up to the second and retain the entire infrastructure of the server, verifying backup every 24 hours. In case of disaster, users can be up and running shortly after establishing an Internet connection.

Business owners should conduct a disaster impact analysis to determine what they’re willing to pay for preparations.

“If your building blew up or burned down or you have something like Hurricane Sandy, in a matter of hours I could have your entire office business ready to go,” Pyron says.

That’s crucial time saved for any business, much less for active ecommerce companies or vital medical operations. 

Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care serves the elderly on the southern coast of Brooklyn. Though the shorefront property suffered severe water damage from Sandy, off-site storage spared the data.

“We did not lose any data,” says Stuart Geller, vice president of information services. “The Menorah site was significantly impacted by the storm, but its data center was not at the facility.”

Geller, who implemented Menorah’s data preparedness plan and protected crucial documents like patient medical records, explained the facility’s primary data center is located separately in upper Brooklyn with information duplicated in real-time at another site in Manhattan. 

“We lost equipment, wiring and telephones,” Geller says, “but I›m happy to say the building was up and running fairly quickly after we resolved connectivity.”

Even with cloud data backups, loss of connectivity from power outages and impacted cell towers pose an additional threat of disruption to business operations. No power could mean no access to business files for days or weeks.

Jill Prince, manager and co-owner of New York’s Hal Prince Music & Entertainment, operates a consistent slate of event productions throughout the tri-state area. Heeding Sandy warnings, she hit her office just hours before the storm to print paper copies of the week’s crucial documents. She went without power for the next four days. 

“Thank goodness for cell phones and the ability to text,” she says. 

Lack of power meant wrangling last-minute generators and delivering an abundance of votive candles to determined brides at power-deprived venues. It also meant no access to her work server, files or email. Though all data retained once power was restored — and cell phones charged in car consoles ensured events went off without a hitch — Prince says a generator may be in her future.

“The long power outage is what threw us for a loop,” she says. “We’re thinking about getting a generator at our home, and it may not be a bad idea to have a generator at the office.”

But the market for generators is a pricey one, says Prince, with portable generators starting at $3,000 and full models at $15,000. Husmann of the SBA, who says it’s common to underestimate the duration of power loss, recommends businesses conduct a disaster impact analysis to determine what they’re willing to pay for preparations.

“Dollar-wise, if you’re down for an hour, if you’re down for a month, if youre down for six months — what’s the dollar value going to be for that business?” she asks. “What’s it going to do to you in terms of loss of sales and income, negative cash flow, dissatisfied customers and increased operational expenses?”

Husmann says owners who may not be able to afford a dedicated IT engineer can consult SBA’s small business development centers for advice on a preparedness plan best suited for each operation. 

And for those who can’t afford any breach in business, Synap’s Pyron recommends a business continuity solution from a company like Agility Recovery Solutions. Not only is data safe and current, but the company will also deliver the makings of a fully operational pop-up shop.

“Agility will come in with a full-blown trailer office, generators, satellite phones, all that stuff,” he says. “They’ll have your company back up and running in less than a day.”

Agility’s continuity services begin at about $500 per month. Pyron’s average clients pay a startup fee of about $2,000 and a monthly fee of 50 cents to $1 per gigabyte stored. Pyron also suggests bringing in an outside IT company at least once a year to test backup services for efficacy.

“Too many business owners out there play Russian roulette every day when they don’t take the time to invest in a good, solid backup solution,” Pyron says. “It’s just the cost of doing business.”


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