Disaster Recovery Plan – 13 Critical Steps You Cannot Avoid

Disaster Recovery Plan – A Definition


A disaster recovery plan is a documented and strategic approach that organisations follow to restore normal operations after a natural or man-made disaster.

I can also be described as a business continuity plan and it involves proactively identifying potential risks and conducting a thorough assessment of the potential threats to the organisation’s critical systems and business operations. It will outline the necessary steps and procedures to recover from a disaster, including backup procedures thereby protecting both data and physical assets.

If well-designed and effective a plan helps mitigate business disruptions, ensures the continuity of critical operations, and minimises the impact of a disaster on the organisation.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Securing Management Support



Involving and having the support of top management in the entire process ensures that they are fully aware of the importance and benefits of a plan. It also gives them an opportunity to address any concerns they may have, enabling a smoother and more effective planning process and a final robust backup plan.

To obtain management buy-in, there are key steps that should be followed:

1. Educate: Clearly explain the purpose of the disaster recovery plan and its significance to the organisation’s ability to resume normal operations after a disaster. Provide concrete examples and statistics regarding the potential risks, impact of disasters and potential reputational damage.

2. Gain support: Engage with top management early on and seek their support for the planning process. Convey the idea that their involvement and key roles in the process will contribute to a comprehensive and well-executed plan.

3. Understand concerns: Take the time to listen to and address any concerns or reservations top management may have. Be prepared to provide detailed information and reassurance regarding the plan’s feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and alignment with the organisation’s goals.

4. Collaboration: Involve top management in the development and review of the disaster recovery plan. Their input and expertise will enhance the plan’s effectiveness and ensure its alignment with the organisation’s objectives.

5. Present benefits: Clearly articulate the benefits of a well-implemented disaster recovery plan, such as minimising downtime, cost savings, protecting the organisation’s reputation, avoiding irreparable damage, and maintaining customer trust. Link these benefits directly to organisational goals to demonstrate the plan’s strategic value.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Audit Your IT Resources



To create an effective disaster recovery plan, it is crucial to conduct an audit of your IT resources. This involves listing and analysing all the IT resources across the premises infrastructure and used in the normal operation of your business.

This will help you better understand the network infrastructure, hardware inventory, identify critical systems and applications, and determine the data that each resource holds.

Start by creating an inventory of all the resources on your network. This inventory should include servers, databases, applications, software, mobile devices, current hardware, and any other IT assets. Take note of their functions, dependencies, and the data they store or process.

Once the inventory is complete, it is important to consolidate and streamline your resources. This means identifying any redundant hardware assets or unnecessary systems or applications and eliminating them. By streamlining your resources, you make it easier to back up and recover your critical IT infrastructure, data and systems in the event of a disaster.

Regularly conducting an audit of your IT resources ensures that your disaster recovery plan is up to date and aligned with your current IT environment. It allows you to identify potential risks and weaknesses in your systems and take appropriate measures to mitigate them.

By understanding and managing your IT resources effectively, you can enhance the resilience and continuity of your business operations.


Disaster Recovery Plan – Create Your DRP Team



To create an effective disaster recovery plan (DRP), assembling the right team with critical roles is essential. The DRP team should consist of individuals from various departments who possess the necessary skills and knowledge to handle different aspects of the recovery process.

The first crucial role is the Disaster Recovery Team Lead. This individual will take charge of overseeing the entire recovery process, coordinating the efforts of different team members, and ensuring that the plan is implemented smoothly.

Unit Managers should be included in the team as they possess a deep understanding of their respective departments’ operations. Their insights will help identify critical systems and prioritise the recovery efforts.

The team should also include IT/IS staff who understand the organisation’s technical infrastructure and can ensure that the systems are properly backed up and restored.

Employee or Human Resource representatives should be included to ensure that employee safety and well-being are prioritised during a DRP execution. They will communicate with employees, address any concerns, and provide support.

Each one of the disaster recovery team members should have the relevant contact information list but also be assigned a specific task such as auditor roles.

External vendors can provide specialised services or expertise during the recovery process, such as cloud services or physical backups.

By including these critical roles in your DRP team, you can ensure a comprehensive and well-coordinated approach to disaster recovery planning.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Understand The Risks and Their Impact



This is crucial when creating a disaster recovery plan. These assessments help identify potential risks, evaluate their likelihood, and assess the potential extent of disruption and the impact on the organisation’s operations.

A risk analysis involves identifying and analysing both natural and human-induced threats that could disrupt normal business operations. Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, or power outages can cause significant damage to infrastructure and disrupt services. Human-induced threats such as cybersecurity threats and attacks, hardware failures, or personnel errors can also lead to business disruption.

This process helps understand the critical assets, systems and processes that are necessary for normal operations. This analysis identifies the dependencies of each system and helps estimate the financial, operational, and reputational impact that a disruption could have on the organisation.

It is important to note that this process that should be regularly revisited and updated. New potential risks may emerge, and the organisation’s operations and critical systems may change over time.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Understand Crucial Operations



Identifying critical operations is a important step in creating an effective disaster recovery plan. By understanding the core functions of your business that would be impacted by a disaster, you can prioritise resources and develop strategies to minimise downtime and ensure a swift recovery.

Consider the type of services and products provided by your business. Identify the key processes, systems, and dependencies involved in delivering these offerings.

Evaluate the dependence on specific locations. Identify if any operations are highly centralised and vulnerable to localised disasters like floods or fires. This could include data centres, warehouses, or manufacturing facilities.

Assess the potential risks that could impede operations. Consider both natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, as well as human-induced threats like cyber attacks or hardware failures. Prioritise the mission critical operations that are most susceptible to these risks.

Also, consider what elements of your business are essential for immediate access, what data needs protection, and what hardware and software resources are necessary for maintaining your industry position.

This will help you determine the recovery objectives, such as the recovery time objective (RTO) and the recovery point objective (RPO), that need to be incorporated into your disaster recovery plan.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Identify Crucial Data & Other Resources



When creating a disaster recovery plan, it is crucial to classify and prioritise critical data, apps, and resources that are essential for your business operations. This step helps in determining the recovery objectives and crafting effective strategies to ensure their rapid restoration of service and continuity.

Start by listing the various data, applications, and resources that your organisation heavily relies on. This could include customer databases, financial records, communication systems, production software, and hardware infrastructure. Once you have identified these, prioritize them based on their importance and impact on your organisation.

Consider factors such as the likelihood of failure and the business impact that would result from a failure in each resource. For example, if your e-commerce business heavily relies on its website for sales, it would be classified as one of your critical applications. On the other hand, if certain data is necessary for legal compliance or contractual obligations, it would be classified as critical data.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Set Recovery Objectives



Setting recovery objectives is a critical step in creating a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. Recovery objectives define the desired outcomes and goals for recovering data, applications, and systems after a disaster strikes.

These objectives are typically based on specific metrics such as the Recovery Point Objective (RPO), Recovery Time Objective (RTO), and Maximum Tolerable Downtime (MTD).

The RPO represents the maximum acceptable amount of data loss measured in time. This metric determines how frequently backups should be performed to ensure minimal data loss.

The RTO, on the other hand, is the targeted timeframe for restoring normal operations after a disaster. It determines the maximum amount of time a system can be offline before it starts impacting the organisation’s operations.

Lastly, MTD defines the longest period that an organisation can tolerate downtime without suffering significant financial, operational, or reputational losses and ultimately irreparable damage.

When clarifying recovery objectives, there are several key factors to consider. Compliance requirements should be evaluated to ensure that recovery objectives are aligned with any regulatory or contractual obligations.

Additionally, the frequency of data backups should be determined based on the criticality of the data and the potential impact of its loss. Failover and failback processes should also be established to ensure smooth transitions between primary and backup systems.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Identify a Suitable Data Storage Solution



A critical aspect of any comprehensive disaster recovery plan is identifying a suitable data storage solution. In the event of a disaster, such as a natural disaster or a cyber attack, having a remote data storage solution becomes crucial in minimising business disruptions and ensuring quick recovery.

Cloud back services offer numerous advantages for data storage in disaster recovery plans. These solutions provide automatic downloading and copying of data to remote servers.

This ensures that data is securely stored offsite and can be easily accessed for recovery purposes. Cloud-based solutions also offer scalability and flexibility, allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of large amounts of data.

In addition, cloud backup solutions often provide built-in redundancy and backup mechanisms, which further enhance data protection. However, it is important to note that physical backups still play a vital role in disaster recovery plans.

Physical backups or remote backups can be kept offline and isolated from infected systems, thereby protecting the data from ransomware attacks. This isolation ensures that even if the primary system is compromised, the data can still be recovered from the physical backups.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Establish Activation Protocol



Establishing the activation protocol for a disaster recovery plan is a crucial step in ensuring that an organisation can respond promptly and effectively when a disaster strikes. This protocol outlines the key players, the actions and timing of recovery steps, as well as the chain of command responsible for enacting these steps.

To establish the activation protocol, the management team should conduct a thorough business impact analysis and risk assessment. This analysis helps identify potential disaster situations that could disrupt normal operations of the entire company.

Once these potential risks are identified, recovery objectives can be set, including the recovery time objective (RTO) and the recovery point objective (RPO).

Based on the identified risks and recovery objectives, the management team can then determine the actions and timing required to recover critical business operations. This includes identifying the necessary resources, such as personnel, equipment, and technology recovery strategies.

The chain of command for enacting the recovery steps should also be established, ensuring that key personnel have clear roles and responsibilities.

Specific disaster situations where the activation protocol will be enacted should be clearly defined. For example, the protocol may be activated in the event of natural disasters, power outages, hardware failure, or network infrastructure disruptions.

It is important to assign functional roles and responsibility for activating the protocol to individuals or teams within the organisation. This ensures that there is a clear point of contact and accountability when disaster strikes.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Create a Notification Process



Creating a Notification Process for Your Disaster Recovery Plan

A crucial component of any effective disaster recovery plan is a notification process that ensures clear and timely communication during a disaster. This process is designed to promptly inform key stakeholders about the incident, activate the recovery plan, and provide updates throughout the recovery process.

To create a comprehensive notification plan, consider the following steps:

1. Identify Key Stakeholders: Determine who needs to be informed during a disaster. This typically includes the management team, CEO, staff, customers, vendors, regulatory bodies, and any other relevant parties.

2. Assign Communication Roles and Responsibilities: Designate specific individuals responsible for communicating with each stakeholder group. This ensures that there are defined functional roles and a clear point of contact and accountability during a crisis.

3. Establish Communication Methods: Determine the primary and alternative communication methods to be used. These may include email, text messages, phone calls, or a designated communication platform. It is important to have redundant methods in case one method is unavailable during the disaster.

4. Collect Emergency Contact Information: Compile a comprehensive list of emergency contact information for each stakeholder group. This should include names, phone numbers, email addresses, and any other relevant details required for effective communication.

5. Create a Communication Plan Template: Develop a communication plan template that outlines the roles and responsibilities, contact information, preferred communication methods, and instructions for communicating during a disaster. This template should be easily accessible and updatable as personnel or contact information changes.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Data Collection & Written Documentation



To ensure an effective disaster recovery plan, it is essential to collect relevant data and create a comprehensive written document that outlines the procedures to be followed before, during, and after a disaster.

This written plan serves as a detailed guide for the organisation and should be regularly updated to reflect any significant changes within the company. By organising the plan into different teams and delegating specific responsibilities to each department, a systematic and coordinated approach can be established.

Collecting data involves conducting a thorough analysis of the organisation’s critical systems, applications, and processes. This includes identifying potential risks and assessing the impact of various disasters, such as power outages, hardware failures, or natural disasters.

By performing a risk analysis and business impact analysis, the organisation can determine the recovery objectives, including the recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO). This data will help prioritise the restoration of critical business operations and guide the development of effective recovery strategies.

Once the necessary data has been collected, it is crucial to create a written document that outlines the procedures to be followed during different stages of a disaster. This document should include clear instructions for activating the disaster recovery plan, delegating responsibilities to relevant teams, and establishing communication channels.

It should also outline the steps to be taken to ensure the safety of personnel and the backup of critical data and systems. The written plan should be easily accessible and regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes within the organisation.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Test, Revise and Test Again



These are crucial steps in ensuring the effectiveness of a disaster recovery plan. Once the plan has been developed and documented, it should not be locked away and forgotten. Regular testing and revision are necessary to ensure that the plan remains up-to-date and aligned with any changes in systems or operations.

Testing the disaster recovery plan allows organisations to identify any weaknesses or gaps in the plan before an actual disaster strikes. There are different methods of testing, including tabletop exercises and full-scale tests.

Tabletop exercises involve simulating various disaster scenarios and assessing the response and effectiveness of the plan. Full-scale tests, on the other hand, involve implementing the plan in real-time to assess its practicality and identify any operational issues.

During the testing phase, it is important to address any issues or gaps that are identified. This may involve revising the plan, updating contact information, or improving communication channels. The goal is to continuously refine and improve the plan to ensure its effectiveness when it is needed most.

Regularly reviewing and updating the disaster recovery plan is essential to keep it relevant and aligned with any changes within the organisation. This includes changes in systems, processes, or personnel. By reviewing the plan on a regular basis, potential risks and mitigation strategies can be reassessed, ensuring that the plan remains robust and effective.



Disaster Recovery Plan – Keep The DRP Up To Date



Maintaining an updated disaster recovery plan (DRP) is crucial for organisations to effectively respond to potential disasters and minimise the impact on their operations. Regularly reviewing and updating the DRP ensures that it remains current and aligned with any changes within the organisation.

Changes in personnel, systems, and technology should be documented and incorporated into the DRP. This includes updating contact information, roles, and responsibilities of key personnel involved in the recovery process.

Additionally, any changes in systems or technology should be accounted for in the plan to ensure that the appropriate backup solutions and recovery procedures are in place.

Regular reviews of the DRP allow organisations to assess its effectiveness and identify any gaps or weaknesses in their preparedness.

By conducting periodic assessments, organisations can update procedures, identify new potential risks, and implement additional mitigation strategies. This enables them to stay proactive in their disaster preparedness efforts and adjust their plan accordingly.

An up-to-date DRP provides organisations with the confidence that they can quickly and effectively restore critical operations and minimise downtime in the event of a disaster. By prioritising the maintenance of the plan, organisations can ensure their resilience and ability to recover from various scenarios.