Don’t let a disaster be your first test of your recovery plan

Article by Nitin Mishra

After we complete 30, having regular medical checkupsensure that we are hale and hearty andcheck for early detection of any serious medical conditions. Likewise, in IT, it isimperative to test the resilience of your Disaster Recovery (DR) plan as it is vital for the health of your business. A regular review of your DR plan will ensure that your organization is fully prepared to take on a disaster if it happens.

Prepare for a review of the DR plan in your organization

Has your DR plan been recently reviewed? How often should IT review a DR plan?In my opinion at least twice a year to ensure business continuity and more if the organization goes through major infrastructure changes. Many organizations build their DR Plan, perhaps test it annually, and store it on a shelf or somewhere out in the network. These organizations are caught off-guard when disaster strikes. The reason – simple routine plan maintenance was not performed on time. Rather than treating a DR plan and its implementation as a priority, IT departments prioritize other corporate deliverables and never get around to planning for emergencies – until a disaster comes knocking at the door. Just like untreated medical conditions, unplanned disaster scenarios can be lethal to your company’s health.

After the smoke clears, the first question that is asked is, ‘how could we have averted the disaster?’ and the next is, ‘how could we have been more prepared?’ The answers are simple – if you had tested your DR plan in time and kept it up to date, the disaster could have been averted.

Here are some suggestions on how to test your business continuity disaster recovery plan and keep it current so that your organization is prepared to tackle any adversity when it strikes and bounce back (up and running) in no time.

Ensure that your DR plan is current and up-to-date

The plan was perfect the day it was written, so every change that’s happened since then i.e.,a new employee has joined or new hardware or software has been purchased or old and outdated hardware has been sold etc, makes your plan that much ineffective. Ensure that you take note of these changes and update your DR plan accordingly.

Specify a date for testing your DR plan

Testing your plan is critical to implementing your recovery. We all are humans and being humans we are prone to forgetting things. So, even if your DR plan is updated periodically but not exercised regularly, it will be forgotten. Testing allows your staff to be familiar with the document, thus making your primary stakeholders comfortable with following the plan in a non-crisis scenario.Things are slightly different with key stakeholders though. They need to be comfortable accessing, referencing and executing the details of the plan.

Simple routine tasks

Perform some practical exercises and Q&A’s with your staff to ensure your DR plans will be fully operational when you need them. Perform a call tree exercise to make sure it’s in working order. Some questions that you can ask can be: Are the phone numbers current? Are the people still with you? How do you access your offsite data? Are the stated Recovery Point and Recovery Time objectives still valid? Who is the DR plan co-coordinator?

Update the contact information

Keep your contact information updated, ensure you have updated name lists and clearly understood work functions. Specify who are the primary, secondary and emergency contacts? Do we have their updated contact information? Do you know how to contact key providers and government agencies? As people leave the organization and someone else joins in their place or their roles get changed, it is difficult to chase someone who is no longer or never was responsible for a specific role.

Check the conference bridges

This should be done frequently or lest one day you find out that someone cancelled the service because it was perceived as not required or because it was seldom used. Remember the saying, ‘What works today may not work tomorrow’. Ensure that the bridge has the capacity to support the number of people that may call in.

Update your vendor contact information

This is absolutely necessary. Your vendor may shift location or the person who you are in touch with may leave the organization. Ensure that your vendor is reachable 24X7in case there is an emergency.

Ensure you have a infallible backup strategy

Your backup strategies reflect the critical nature of your data and operations. It will be impossible to start recovery of your systems if the infrastructure required to aid the recovery processand data backups are incomplete. Revisit your backups often and examine the backup policies to ensure they have kept pace with all recent changes.

Involve key stakeholders and secure a buy in

You must involve key stakeholders in making the DR plan and secure their buy in. Securing a buy in is important for the plan to be implemented successfully through your organization. Once the plan is finalized it must be distributed to all stakeholders. Everyone must be able to access their plan immediately when called upon, with minimal manual intervention required.

Complete and self explanatory

The plan must be detailed enough and easy to understand and implement. It should be such that any business or IT professional should be able to understand it fully and require no additional input in the event of recovering data from your servers should a disaster strike. The plan must spell out each and every step so it can be followed like a recovery roadmap.


The plan must support all critical aspects of your business. It must cover all technological hardware platforms, business processes and network recovery elements required to meet today’s business objectives. Both technical recovery and management aspects must be clearly outlined.

Now that you have a diagnostic check-list, be sure to set an appointment with your DR Plan. Review all the elements of your plan and make sure it performs to the rigors of your diagnostic test. In the event of a disaster, your business depends on IT so make sure you have your ammunition ready and running to make your business bounce back quickly from a disaster.