Attendance at disaster planning seminars should jump following the Northeast and Midwestern blackout this month. Everyone focuses on disaster planning right after the most recent catastrophe.

But memories tend to fade quickly, so preaching about the need to plan never ends. It’s like a basketball coach who never stops telling players to put their hands up. The basics don’t go out of style.

Many smaller firms don’t need the elaborate precautions taken by enterprise-sized operations, such as having diesel-powered electrical generators, mirrored, hot swappable drives, or telephone lines from different carriers coming in the building through separate entry ways. Unless you are providing life-support or have a data center loaded with mainframes, much of that is out of reach. But everyone needs some plan; after all, a plumbing leak in the office upstairs can prove as deadly to a computer drive as the worst disaster.

What most small firms need is a spare tire—copies of key data stored in separate sites so they aren’t wiped out by the same disaster. Just remember, if your facility burns, the back-up media located there will burn too. Three sets of data are probably the minimum anyone should have and put one of those in vault, or some other hardened site. You can replace hardware applications a lot easier than you can replace years of business data.

What should firms use? Tape, the old standby, is still a pretty good choice, but burning CDs or DVDs can also represent an effective way of making mobile copies, depending on the volume of data being duplicated. In a pinch, making copies of critical files on floppy disks beats losing the data, although the capacity is a limiting factor there. (And remember to test the backups to make sure they work, or that they even have data on them.)

One of the big lessons for many organizations in the recent darkness was that a major problem can cripple the best laid plans. Many firms with offices in New York City that needed back up sites located them across the river in New Jersey, where many towns were also without power. That was a bit reminiscent of 9-11, when many companies backed up their data to another site within the Twin Towers.

Again, the answers to what companies should do varies by size and by business. The real question is “How long can you afford to be out of business?”

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