Disaster recovery firms wonder: Won’t they ever learn?

A survey sponsored by two Canadian disaster recovery firms indicates that Ontario firms may not have learned the lessons of a year ago when the province shut down due to a massive blackout.

The survey, the results of which were released Wednesday, was comissioned by Toronto-based Fusepoint Managed Services and Mississauga-based Agility Recovery Solutions. The survey was conducted by Leger Marketing between Aug. 3 and Aug. 8 and included 300 Ontario companies with 10 or more employees.

Thirty per cent of respondents said that they have an official business continuity plan in place in the event of a disaster of power outage. Another 32 per cent said they have an “”unofficial”” plan. The remainder had no plan at all.

“”We were very surprised by the results,”” said Stephen McWilliam, director of partners and alliances for Fusepoint. “”We really would have thought that the blackout last year would have been a wake-up call for all Ontario businesses.

“”(The survey) confirmed my fears,”” said Agility’s CEO Bob Boyd. “”You’d hope people are better prepared. . . . They’ve developed a plan for Y2K and that’s their disaster plan. Well, a lot’s changed in four years.””

Roughly half of the respondents said that lack of internal resources and the cost associated with disaster recovery and planning had prevented them from taking steps.

Those respondents are likely smaller companies, since most enterprises will already have a comprehensive plan in place.

“”In this past, this has really been a business focused at the very largest sector of operations that knew they had a need, had a fiduciary responsbility and could afford to pay significant prices for this.”” said Boyd.

Boyd, who joined Agility in February, said he has made it a priority to address the small and medium-sized business market and price services within an affordable range. “”They know they need it, they just didn’t think they could afford it,”” he said.

The firm provides a variety of services, including mobile units stocked with computer equipment to get a disaster-struck company back on its feet.

Despite the lack of formal plans in place, the majority (74 per cent) of respondents said they feel more prepared to deal with disasters than they were a year ago.

Elizabeth Beaver, the president of Disaster Recovery Information Exchange Canada, said that more companies than ever are prepared to deal with the worst. She couldn’t comment directly on the survey results, but said that overall awareness of the need for a business continuity plan is up significantly in recent years. The trend towards caution and preparedness started after Sept. 11, 2001 and has continued steadily ever since.

“”We have over 340 members and they all have business recovery plans. If you have a good plan, you don’t need a plan that tells you how to recover from a blackout. . . . I’d say we’re well ready for another one,”” she said, adding that parts of downtown Toronto were tested by a blackout in January.

DRIE has chapters across Canada and its members span insurance, finance, retail, transportation and government, among others.

The 2003 blackout provided one lesson for some its members: better management of diesel fuel to power generators.

“”They have taken another look at their generators. They’ve increased them or taken a look at how to get the fuel — especially in downtown Toronto when you’ve got hospitals that are vying for that same resource. It really means you’ve got to have good relationships with your (diesel) vendors,”” said Beaver.

Two-thirds of survey respondents may not have developed their own business continuity plans, but McWilliam said business is booming at Fusepoint. The company has doubled its client base in the last year for high availability solutions, security measures and patch management. He said he couldn’t specify where those new customers are coming from, but include businesses of all sizes and across numerous industries.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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