Peace in the Storm: Reflections on Disaster Recovery

Watching Hurricane Irma barrel towards Florida gave me plenty of cause for worry. I worried about the safety of my family, my friends, my artwork, my fig tree. I worried about why on earth I was worrying about my artwork and my fig tree. But when it came time to worry about ClearTrust, I didn’t. To the best of our ability, we were ready.

As I write this, businesses are still boarded up, grocery store shelves are still empty, trees are down all around me and roads are flooded. Sitting in the thick of hurricane aftermath, disaster recovery seems an apt topic to write about. But a quick web search will prove the public domain is replete with credible advice for how to gauge risks, write a plan and implement it, so I will not venture to duplicate those efforts here.

I will, however, offer some reflection from my office in hurricane-prone Florida.

First and foremost, we all must have a disaster recovery and business continuity plan. I might skip this statement as too obvious to bother writing, except the surreal reality is, not all agents are prepared. We intercepted a call, two days before Irma was to hit, from a Florida-based transfer agent without a plan. News of mandatory evacuations in your town is not the time to start thinking about this. If you do not have a disaster recovery plan, you must create it now.

If you are like most and you do have a proper plan in place, but the thought of a disaster triggering that plan gives you physical stress, perhaps it needn’t. The reason I was not preoccupied about ClearTrust operations is because we had practiced and communicated a plan that would work for us. We had a clear, well-defined but agile strategy that was fresh on the entire team’s minds. Everyone knew who to report to, where to go, and the exact location of our backup office out of state. Everyone knew that their safety mattered more than turnaround times. Everyone knew the records were backed up in multiple locations, all physical documentation was preserved electronically, and all certificates and checks were secured in protected fire-proof vaults. Everyone knew we had done everything we could, years and months and days before that hurricane was to hit, to be prepared for that moment. At least, to be prepared as best we could for that moment.

Theoretically, a disaster recovery plan should contemplate all possible problems and prevent those problems from disrupting the business. But the truth is every disaster is defined as such because of the tremendous number of factors and outcomes that we can’t predict, control or prevent, and no particular list of tips on disaster recovery will ever be sufficient to encompass all that requires our attention. What’s more, there are as many disaster recovery plans as there are businesses in the world. No one-size-fits all solution will ever exist. The “unknowns” and “uncontrollables” far outweigh the “best practices.” Hence the potential for ulcer-inducing stress when a disaster actually strikes. But I’ve found a singular mantra of wisdom applies universally to all companies that can bring peace as we embrace uncertainty: communicate, clarify, practice, and know your limits.

This is the most of what we can do as business leaders. We must be proactive to communicate, clarify, and practice our plan. We must make that plan as robust and comprehensive as possible, taking into consideration feedback and wisdom from every role in the organization and, when the time comes, we must implement it well. And when all of that is said and done, we must realize that ultimately, we can only control those factors that are within our grasp and humbly accept our limits. The disaster itself will always remain outside of our power to predict or subdue it, and no amount of stress we receive unto ourselves will alter the inevitable reality of our limitations.

This was made clear as I watched Irma head unrelenting toward our beautiful state. We had prepared, we had practiced, and then we had no choice but to face the limits of what we could do. Florida Governor Rick Scott seemed to humbly embrace human limitation as well. After an exhaustive fight against time to prepare our state and cover every conceivable base, he stopped, and made one final public plea before the storm hit our coast, “The best thing you can do now is pray.”

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"Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." - Jesus