Floods show gap between disaster recovery plan haves and have-nots

The floods that hit the UK this month have highlighted the benefits of business continuity and disaster recovery planning over ad hoc responses.

The floods that hit the UK this month have highlighted the benefits of business continuity and disaster recovery planning over ad hoc responses.

Thousands of companies were forced to suspend business or operate with skeleton staff after three times the usual rainfall fell in counties including Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire in mid-July. However, others were able to invoke disaster recovery plans to minimise the disruption to their businesses.

Disaster recovery companies reported a high number of business continuity plan invocations and standby calls from customers in Central and Western England. Most said they had not received as many calls for a single incident since the Buncefield fire in 2006, or the London bombings on 7 July 2005.

"Business continuity needs to be done in advance for the longer term to enable proper planning, implementation and testing of systems," said Keith Tilley, managing director at disaster recovery firm Sungard Availability Services.

Unlike fires or explosions, disaster recovery companies said flooding affected many more companies over a much wider area at the same time, with firms that were not underwater affected by related power and water cuts. The effects of flooding can also be longer lasting. It was feared it could be months before some businesses are up and running again.

Gloucester City Council's servers shut down after uniterruptible power supply systems ran out of power during protracted outages, but Jan Harris, head of IT at the council, said there would be no permanent damage to systems. Although council buildings were flooded, servers were located on the second floor and were unaffected.

Fortis Insurance in Gloucester was also affected by power cuts. The company invoked its business continuity contract with SunGard to take 250 positions for its staff at SunGard's Bristol Workplace Recovery Centre.

A Gloucester-based ISP said about 400 of its customers had been affected by the flooding, either directly, or indirectly through power and water cuts. The ISP said it was operating with a skeleton staff at its datacentre, but it would re-route e-mail services free of charge for businesses hit by the flooding to enable employees to work from home.

Web hosting provider Fasthosts Internet said its business continuity plan had enabled the company to keep its 300,000 customers' websites online. Although not directly affected by the flood waters, Fasthosts' datacentre had to switch to its diesel generators when the power went out.

Many other companies affected by the floods were also continuing with business as usual, thanks to their business continuity plans.

Some of these companies were supplied with mobile computer rooms with onboard generators under contracts with business continuity suppliers. Those unable to access their premises were relocated to specialist business continuity centres, where they were able carry on trading.

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