11 Steps for Designing a Foolproof Disaster Recovery Plan

11 Steps for Designing a Foolproof Disaster Recovery Plan

Natural disasters and cyber threats can wreak havoc on your business. But what about theft, equipment failure or prolonged power outages? 

There’s no end to the events that could cause extended downtime and significant revenue losses. Having a foolproof disaster recovery plan helps mitigate business disruptions and gets you back up and running faster.

You can’t afford not to have a disaster recovery plan. However, creating one can be a real pain. Today we’ll break down the steps you need to take to design a foolproof disaster recovery plan that could save your business — and help you sleep better. 

What Is a Disaster Recovery Plan?

A disaster recovery plan, or DRP, is a set of policies and instructions that helps your business recover quickly from a disruptive event. DRPs are designed to prevent downtime, resume business operations quickly and avoid significant revenue or data losses in an emergency. A disaster recovery plan isn’t just an insurance policy but a plan of action.

There are four stages of the disaster management cycle: 

  1. Prevention: proactively taking security steps to prevent disruption 
  2. Preparation: putting safety guidelines in place
  3. Mitigation: minimizing loss when incidents occur
  4. Recovery: returning to normal operations

While a DRP can encompass a broad range of processes and tools, today we’ll focus on its impact on information technology (IT) applications. 

11 Steps for Designing a Foolproof Disaster Recovery Plan

What are the essential elements of a typical disaster recovery plan? While DRPs can quickly become unwieldy, here are 11 disaster recovery plan steps that will get you well on the road to a workable plan.

Step 1: Conduct a risk analysis

Step 2: Assess your vulnerabilities

Step 3: Identify critical business processes and applications

Step 4: Set recovery objectives 

Step 5: Determine your backup and data recovery methods

Step 6: Establish activation protocol

Step 7: Create a notification process

Step 8: Form a response team and train your employees

Step 9: Test, revise and test again

Step 10: Document your disaster recovery plan

Step 11: Keep your DRP updated

Step 1: Conduct a Risk Analysis

It’s crucial to be aware of a “single point of failure” risk, like data loss. Has your business already been a target of a cyberattack, or is your geographic location prone to natural disasters? Record known and potential risks and rank their priority.

Step 2: Assess Your Vulnerabilities

Using old hardware and software is a common vulnerability. Legacy IT systems can expose you to security risks, especially if they’re improperly maintained. Consider upgrading your outdated infrastructure to improve safety and efficiency.

Step 3. Identify Critical Business Processes and Applications

What business processes and applications are vital to your operations? If you had to prioritize restoration efforts, what would you do first? Performing a business impact analysis (BIA) predicts the consequences of business disruption and gathers the data you need to develop a recovery strategy. 

Step 4. Set Recovery Objectives 

Should a disaster occur, to what level will you set your recovery objectives? How much can you afford to lose? The following metrics are generally used to determine recovery objectives in a DRP:

  • Recovery Point Objective (RPO): RPO is a look backward. RPO is a recovery to the last restorable data backup. You will likely lose any data generated between the event and the RPO.
  • Recovery Time (RTO): RTO is a look forward. RTO is the time between the event and recovery, during which your system(s) will be non-functioning. 
  • Maximum Tolerable Downtime (MTD): Use MTD to determine both your RPO and RTO and minimize operational downtime and allowable data loss.

Step 5. Determine Your Backup and Data Recovery Methods

Did you know that over 140,000 hard drives fail every week in the U.S.? Yet few businesses regularly — or properly — back up their data. When disaster strikes, restoring your data, critical applications and servers is crucial to your businesses’ survival.

Combining on-premise hardware, local backups and cloud storage ensures recovery from minor and major data loss incidents. Many businesses utilize managed services providers to handle their backup and recovery systems to protect their data and critical assets.

Step 6. Establish Activation Protocol

Who determines what actions are taken and when? What is the chain of command for enacting recovery steps? Identify specific disaster situations in which disaster recovery protocols will be activated and by whom.

Step 7. Create a Notification Process

Make sure you have current contact information for recovery personnel. After you set the DRP in motion, prioritize notifying management and key stakeholders.

Step 8. Form a Response Team and Train Your Employees

Will you call your entire IT department into action or a specific subset of personnel? How many responders is appropriate will vary from business to business. 

Remember the P5 rule: Prior preparation prevents poor performance. Establishing procedures and then training responsible “strike team” personnel is a must.

Step 9. Test, Revise and Test Again

The most effective disaster recovery plans are continually tested, reviewed and updated for best results. Your DRP should evolve along with your business needs and processes, requiring periodic testing to ensure proper execution of revised recovery strategies.

In addition, testing gives employees a chance to practice enacting the plan, minimizing errors and improving their confidence in activating the emergency plan.

Step 10. Document Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Once you finalize your disaster recovery plan, create a distribution plan and ensure that all personnel and stakeholders can access copies as needed.

Step 11. Keep Your DRP Updated

Having a foolproof disaster recovery plan is not a “one and done” process. As personnel, systems and technology change, so should your DRP. Effectively maintaining a disaster recovery plan entails documenting changes as they occur to keep it accurate and relevant.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Disaster Recovery Plan in Place?

Limits Downtime

Extended downtime can be a business killer. Having a tested disaster recovery plan gets your business back on its feet faster.

Mitigates Data Loss 

Swift action lessens data loss when you activate your DRP. The longer a disaster situation goes unchecked, the more sensitive data (and revenue) you stand to lose.

Preserves Your Reputation

A business that’s been subject to any disastrous loss can become press targets, raising concerns about compromised customer information. Data breaches create opportunities for competitors who are only too happy to jump in and take advantage of catastrophic situations. 

More importantly, the swift resolution of security catastrophes reassures your customers that their sensitive information is safe. Customer trust is priceless. While customer retention may be expensive, lost trust can be permanent.

Saves Money 

The more data you lose, the more it costs to replace it — if it’s replaceable at all. When personnel work overtime to restore systems and information, costs can quickly skyrocket. 

Improves Inventory Management

Creating an effective disaster recovery plan often forces businesses to take a long-overdue physical count of their assets — and that’s a good thing! Maintaining accurate records of hardware and software comes in handy, especially in the case of irreversible physical damage or theft.

Keeps Your Business Compliant

If your business is subject to regulatory compliance standards, it is incumbent upon you to maintain proper security measures. Your business may incur fines and penalties for failing to comply with these requirements.

Common compliance measures include: 

  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) 
  • SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act) 
  • BASEL II (New Basel Capital Accord) 
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act 
  • Patriot Act 

Gives You Peace of Mind

Not having a current disaster recovery plan for your business can (and should!) keep you awake at night. Why risk catastrophic or irreversible loss when investing in a DRP has so many benefits? 

Disaster Prevention: The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

You know what they say about an ounce of prevention, right? Preventing disasters is a critical piece of disaster recovery, lessening the severity of events when they happen. 

Here are some common disaster prevention steps you should have in place:

Recover from Disaster Faster with Helixstorm

Does the thought of crafting your own disaster recovery plan make you nervous? You’re not alone. Creating and maintaining a DRP is often too complicated and expensive for most small and medium-sized companies to manage independently. 

Being proactive with your disaster recovery plan doesn’t mean it all has to fall on your shoulders. Partnering with a managed IT services provider to build your DRP could provide the help you need to create a workable solution that ensures long-term security… and fewer sleepless nights.

Don’t put off creating your DRP another day. Contact Helixstorm today to learn how you can recover from disaster faster.