Fire proves that you need to plan

Last week we revealed that many organisations were revisiting their business continuity plans in the wake of the Madrid bombings....

Last week we revealed that many organisations were revisiting their business continuity plans in the wake of the Madrid bombings. As we report this week, businesses with operations in the North West of England and North Wales did not have long to consider these plans before they were dealing with their own emergency, in the form of a phone cable fire in a tunnel in Manchester.

The fire resulted in the loss of 130,000 lines and caused organisations to invoke disaster recovery plans. Although not on the scale of a major disaster or terrorist attack, it was a timely wake-up call, especially for those outside metropolitan areas, that even a relatively small incident can cause business issues that require continuity planning to resolve.

Even though some organisations are still restoring their operations to normal, it is not too early to start drawing out the lessons to be learned.

Attempting to ensure telecoms continuity is not as straightforward as having two suppliers and hoping that if one suffers disruption the other will save the day. In the Manchester incident, a number of different carriers either shared the BT lines that were destroyed in the fire or laid their own along the same tunnel. Similarly, some businesses that were affected had back-up sites in other locations in the North West but found the back-up site also used the affected portion of the telephone network.

The best advice for IT directors wanting to avoid both these problems is to check the routing of your cables with your telecoms supplier and ensure you limit the scope for a single point of failure.

The second lesson is that those companies relying on mobile phone networks as an alternative to fixed lines in an emergency may be in for a rude shock, as most of these were also affected.

All businesses should use incidents such as the fire in Manchester as an opportunity to refine their business continuity plans and to remind the board of what can happen. This will ensure that, as far as possible, the business is prepared.

We also report this week on the growing support for a new British Standard on business continuity, attainment of which will confirm to customers and suppliers that an organisation has proper continuity plans and tests them regularly.

This is a welcome move and one that will allow companies to have more confidence in their supply chain and require smaller firms to meet only a single standard rather than undergo checks by a number of larger customers. IT directors can and should make their voice heard to ensure that the standard, when it is introduced, truly gives confidence in the business continuity plans of those who attain it.

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