Simple Strategies for Disaster Recovery Plan Activation

A well defined and documented Disaster Recovery Plan is an insurance policy - you certainly need one, but you also hope you never have to use it. That said, if the need arises, you must also know that you will be ready and able to respond.  That's why it's so important to clearly define every aspect of "plan activation".  Read on for more.

Activation is the means by which the actions contained in a documented DRP are initiated and executed.  A qualifying event occurs and planned steps are taken.  A defined activation process makes it easier to realize every benefit of proactive disaster recovery planning. To ensure timely activation, related steps and procedures must address multiple needs and requirements, accounting for life safety, chain of command, escalation and effective communication.

How can you be sure that your activation procedures are sufficiently relevant, realistic and actionable?  Plan testing is an absolute necessity, but your first step is to ensure that all activation needs have been fully accounted for.  To that end, activation procedures should be defined according to three (3) primary guidelines:

  1. Activation scope must incorporate five (5) key elements to ensure that related procedures are fully actionable (considering DRP scope and specifics).
  2. Activation guidelines must focus on triggering events and conditions, to clearly analyze and evaluate current circumstances, and to determine whether the DRP will be activated.
  3. Activation steps must be defined so that they can be executed in a consistent, orderly fashion.  Everyone should know what they need to do and how they need to do it.

Five (5) Keys of Activation Scope

Activation scope the totality of all related strategies and procedures to ensure that the DRP can be invoked when needed, and in an orderly, effective fashion, encompassing the following (5) elements:

  • Activation Criteria. To identify the specific disaster conditions triggering plan activation (according to type, severity, impact and duration).
  • Assessment Procedures. To evaluate potential disaster events in order to ensure that activation criteria have been met.
  • Approval Mechanisms. To obtain appropriate approvals for plan activation, considering IT management personnel, line of business management personnel, and company executives.
  • Activation Logistics. To ensure that all facilities and systems are available as needed to support plan activation, including the designated Command Center location, where most, if not all, disaster recovery "command and control" activities can be executed.
  • Communication Procedures. To inform all employees, and other interested parties (customers, vendors, suppliers, the public) of all activation related decisions and activities.

Activation Guidelines Focus on Event Analysis

One of the most important steps in DRP activation is to know whether activation is appropriate.  Not every problem event will qualify as a "disaster", and although it might appear otherwise on the surface, DRP activation is not always appropriate.  "Event analysis" is used to determine whether DRP activation is warranted.  As activation procedures are planned, event analysis practices must be sufficiently defined through the following questions:

  1. What types of events will trigger plan activation?
  2. How will these events be evaluated to ensure that plan activation is appropriate?
  3. Who will be involved in the event assessment process?
  4. How will assessment recommendations be escalated to the appropriate decision makers?
  5. Who must approve plan activation?
  6. How many approvals are required?
  7. How will plan activation be communicated?

Activation Steps for Orderly Execution

Above all, whenever a DRP must be activated, responding action must be immediate and effective.  A disaster is no time to figure out what to do "in order to respond".  You need to focus on action and the specifics of the event at hand -- not on the uncertainty involved.  To that end, a standardized approach to DRP activation must address the four (4) factors of disaster recovery capability:  to react, to respond, to recover and to evaluate.  The following listing summarizes each factor and the primary steps involved.

React: A potential triggering event is recognized and acknowledged.

  1. The Disaster Recovery Coordinator is notified that a potential disaster event has occurred.
  2. The Disaster Response Team is alerted and evaluation steps are initiated.
  3. The event is evaluated to determine whether the DRP should be activated.  If the activation criteria are met, the approved DRP is activated.  Note: If the disaster criteria have not been met, the event will likely be treated as a "problem", and the appropriate problem management plan/process should be activated.

Respond: The Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) is activated.

  1. Life safety procedures are initiated as required.
  2. Response and recovery procedures are initiated as appropriate to the disaster type, severity and duration.
  3. Communication procedures are initiated as required.
  4. DRP activities are executed and maintained as needed until permanent recovery is realized.

Recover: To restore operations once the triggering event is resolved.

  1. Take any steps needed to resume normal technology operations and related technical support services (replace damaged hardware, consolidate data, etc.).
  2. Maintain close communication with end-users, customers and technical support staff to ensure that all issues have been identified, addressed and resolved.

Evaluate: To learn from the activation and recovery experience to improve future response capabilities.

  1. Conduct the DRP "lessons learned analysis" to evaluate DRP relevancy, quality and effectiveness.
  2. Apply identified "lessons learned" to improve future DRP performance.

Continue reading more on this subject in our next article Take a Team Approach to Disaster Recovery Planning and download our whitepaper Needs Based Planning for IT Disaster Recovery.

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