What Does ‘Disaster Plan’ Really Mean?

It’s strange that when you watch the news each night there seems to be all sorts of disasters affecting various parts of the world: from earthquakes to fires, to floods and volcanic eruptions, to snowstorms and tsunamis; all of these having great impact upon people and corporations.  Yet, what’s not often televised are the technology disasters.  Oh, you’ll hear about the issues that corporations have with the ABM running down or something else happening but no one calls it a disaster.  It’s kind of odd if you ask me. 

If what the news tells us is true, a disaster is more than just an Information Technology breakdown; it’s a natural disaster as well.  Let’s face it, a technology disaster is a man-made disaster; Mother Nature didn’t create technology, the Human race did.  Of course, it’s well known that Mother Nature can perform some natural act on a whim, which will cause impacts and problems to technology.  Think of strong rainstorms and flooding. 

            Still, why then do we continually say that a disaster is a situation that’s IT specific?  Obviously, it’s not.  A disaster is more than just a server breaking down or losing a connection to another site.  A loss of technology can be a result of a disaster – storms, floods, fires etc – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be technology specific for there to be a disaster. 

            Now, with the dependency on technology in today’s world, it can be understood that loosing technology can be a disaster for an organization and that to continue operations they must restore and recover systems ASAP, or else they may lose customers, orders and possibly in the end, go out of business. 

            Why do we call the plans for technology situations (scenarios) Disaster Planning?  I guess is comes from the 60’s when IT professionals at the time developed ‘disaster plans’ to deal with large corporate mainframes to ensure they were available at all times or that they can be restored and recovered if a disaster occurred.  They called it their ‘disaster plan.’ 

            We’ve come a long way since then.  We don’t see a disaster as just a technology situation – it’s more than that.  The entire professional has grown beyond just IT recovery and now incorporates so much more.  The term disaster plan should encompass all the actions needed to prepare for and respond to any disaster situation – not just IT.  With the maturity level of Business Continuity Management (BCM) gaining momentum over the years – most notably in North America since 9/11 – a disaster plan can’t be solely based on IT.  It’s an outdated term that should not be used to address an all encompassing program. 

            If you want to have a plan solely focused on technology recovery then call it a Technology Recovery Plan (TRP).  We need to move beyond that thinking and have technology plans part of an overall methodology or program title, such as BCM.  It’s no wonder we have problems trying to explain to others what we do and get people within organization to understand what it is we’re doing for the organization. 

We have soooo many terms: COOP, BCP, BCP, ERT, BCM, DRP, TRP, CMT….  Well, I’ll just stop there as I’m getting tired.  I’m still not sure why we use this term.  Do we use it to help others or us?  What does it really mean?

If a disaster is more than just technology, then what is a disaster plan today and why are we still tying it to IT?

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The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”  Available at www.stone-road.com **

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