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2012 was one of the wettest years on record. Over 52 inches of rainfall splashed down on Britain, despite the country experiencing a drought over the first three months. Over 8,000 homes and businesses were battered by heavy rain, storms and flash floods. UK agriculture suffered as crops were hit, and the country’s transport infrastructure was severely disrupted. More worryingly, research from the Met Office has warned that we can expect more ‘extreme’ weather events in the future, with average rainfall levels rising across Britain. Clearly 2012 was not a one off problem.
The weather has always been a topic of concern for Brits, yet we seem powerless when it comes to provisioning against it. Year after year UK businesses are continually disrupted by severe weather – in 2012 it was flooding and before that snow brought the country to a standstill. Admittedly Britain has a somewhat changeable climate but it’s hard to believe that the infrastructures of North America or Western Europe could be so badly affected by wind, rain or snow so regularly.
A Change in Defence
During the winter months the threat of flooding and severe weather events loom like dark clouds over UK businesses, posing risks of workplace closures, travel chaos and productivity disruption. Too often supply chains are left broken and customer demands go unsupplied thanks to Britain’s weather.
Now, as technology like cloud computing hits the mainstream and businesses begin to see the benefits of remote and flexible-working, we should expect to see a step-change in continuity and recovery planning for UK organisations against severe weather. The cloud, for example, offers the potential for 24/7 access to data and mission critical applications, regardless of time, location and device. And once the physical location becomes less of a factor, severe weather becomes less of an issue, as employees are able to work remotely, whether that is from home, on the move or from a secondary recovery site. Ideal if flood waters have left the office uninhabitable. Here accessibility should be the key concern; a business’s data is useless if it can’t be used. Organisations must ensure that all employees have remote access to the tools they need to continue working.
Firms should be careful, however, not rely too heavily on remote working technologies. As Hurricane Sandy demonstrated, disruptions to local power or communications infrastructure, when severe enough, can compromise plans to work from home. Rather than putting all eggs in one recovery basket, businesses need to equip themselves with both near and far recovery options. With a near site recovery option, staff should still be able to access the secondary office, even in the cases of disruption to the local transport network. On the other hand, a far site recovery space would allow your staff to reach a working facility when a wider area has been affected. The key lesson here is that the organisation must put in place a comprehensive recovery plan that can deal with even the most severe eventuality.
Maintaining clear communication channels with the workforce, customers and stakeholders is another key area for consideration. After a disruptive event such as flooding, businesses can quickly descend into confusion and inaction as employees remain in the dark around continuity efforts and whether important deadlines will be met. Customers can also become quickly disillusioned with a business that is unable to fulfil its service promises and, in times of austerity when loyalty wanes, downtime can have costly repercussions for future business. Organisations must keep all parties informed of developments, business priorities and the overall recovery strategy in order to ensure that everyone is travelling in the same direction. Here, increased data analytics allow businesses to get a better picture of the organisation’s recovery, what areas have been fully remedied and where additional resources can be deployed to help employees get back to business as usual.
The Bigger Picture
With the government’s recently announced £5m funding scheme to help regional businesses protect themselves from flood risks, we are starting to see real improvements to UK recovery planning. More action is needed however. From the government, it’s further strategic investment to ensure that businesses can continue despite severe weather events. From businesses, it’s recognising responsibility and accepting that their availability measures, not floods, should be culpable for disruption. Technology like cloud computing and managed services provide the means to overcome such disruptions – whatever the weather!
Note: This article first appeared in Contingency Today 8/5/13: http://www.contingencytoday.com/online_article/Flood-protection—how-to-make-sure-it-doesn_t-sink-your-business/3850