Disaster can strike at any moment. It’s why we insure our vehicles, homes, lives, and of course, our businesses. Our first priority is the safety and wellbeing of ourselves and loved ones. Nothing is harder than coping with human tragedy. Beyond that, though, are disasters that devastate your livelihood and everything you’ve worked for. Specifically, when tragedy strikes your business and you lose precious records or data, life can feel like it’s ended. With the means of prevention available, there is no reason for it to ever come to this.

Documents can be vulnerable to any number of risks. Depending on where and how they are stored, many natural and man-made disasters are always possible. Let me repeat that. Even if unlikely, there is always a possibility that catastrophe will occur. In nature, weather is unpredictable and can bring about minor to massive destruction. Nature is not the only culprit of such misfortune. Accidents happen all the time as a result of faulty wiring, gas leaks, equipment failure, and more. To best ensure your business will withstand anything life can throw at it, you need to determine:

  • The type of disaster that feasibly could happen
  • What information you need to safely recover
  • The format of every bit of data you cannot afford to lose
  • Based on all the above, which back up methods are right for you

What is possible?

Man-made disasters are pretty relevant no matter where you are. Negligence, power outages, building integrity, sabotage, and computer viruses are all examples of things that could happen to just about anyone.

Natural disasters differ based on geographic location. A few examples include: tornadoes, lightning, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, extreme temperatures, volcanic eruptions, hail, snow, and ice storms.

Between these two categories of disaster, note which are possible for you and your business.

Valuable information

With a handle on what kinds of risks your documents and data face, you want to write down every kind of information that you would need to recover in the event of misfortune. Some might be:

  • Customer information
  • Inventory
  • Licenses/Certificates
  • Security information
  • Tracking records
  • Financial information
  • Procedures
  • Specifications
  • Drawings
  • Records – employee, client, etc.
  • Video or audio records

For everything you list that would be vital to recover, compare your current disaster recovery against all possible scenarios. For example, if your electronic data is backed up on the hard drive of a computer that has virus protection, what would happen if there was a flood? If you have paper documents secured offsite in a building that can withstand a tornado, what would happen if that building caught fire? Could you still recover this valuable information?

The medium of information

As you go through the list of valued information and how to protect it, it is obvious that paper records are most likely to be lost forever. Most companies have on and/or offsite filing cabinets, boxes, drawers, and shelves full of paper records. Even humidity can deteriorate paper. To back up information kept on paper, there are a few options:

  • Electronic storage: files are scanned onto CDs, DVDs, flash drives, hard drives, web-based storage, or uploaded to the cloud.
  • Microfiche: a flat film that holds a matrix of micro images.
  • Aperture Card: punched or non-punched card with a mounted microfilm image.

Determining the best backup plan for you

Now that you understand what could destroy your documents, which data is vital for your business’ survival, and which records are most at risk, you can start to put together a plan. Here is what you want to consider:

  • Priority: is every record you listed absolutely vital to your business? Focus on the most critical documents and records first.
  • Storage options: nearly every storage system is vulnerable to something. Assess the type of destruction that is possible in your area, and consider an offsite location that is not prone to that. For example, if your business is in an area where hurricanes occur, choose an offsite location that would not be affected by such a disaster. Remember: you should be keeping duplicate copies of everything and storing the two sets of information in separate locations.
  • Integrity: document integrity is easily compromised for paper, microfiche, and aperture cards simply with enough time passing. If your information medium can degrade over time, make a plan to replace it periodically.
  • Accessibility: whatever your retrieval system, it needs to allow for quick and easy access. Without logical indexing, your documents may be difficult to recover, making them no more useful than if they were completely gone.
  • Converting: probably the safest way to protect all non-electronic forms of data is to have it scanned into an electronic format. When these documents are scanned to TIFFs or PDFs, they can be indexed by multiple fields to make retrieval extremely easy.

There are many ways to protect electronically-formatted documents. The cost to rent electronic storage is minimal compared to physical storage. It is easy to store electronic data in multiple locations; it’s also easy to back up the information at regular intervals.

If a power outage or computer/networking hacking is a concern, electronic data can also be converted to eye-readable formats (like microfiche.) For some, this method of information storage makes the most sense.

Overall, take your disaster planning seriously. Be thorough about what you need to do, and create an action plan that will work. (Then do it!) If all goes well, you will never need to rely on your disaster recovery plan. If you need one, however, there is no turning back the clock – what’s gone will be gone. Save the future of your company by planning ahead today.

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