Dual blizzards demonstrate need to develop disaster-recovery plan

It wasn’t quite like March 2003, but the Blizzard of 2006, and its sequel a week later, had a cumulative effect on Northern Colorado business.

Back in 2003, the blizzard shut down local cities for a week and caused many roofs to collapse, millions of dollars in lost business and a massive loss of productivity. Fort Collins alone saw up to three feet of snowfall, and local schools remained closed for four or five days.

The December 2006 storms caused their fair share of local disruptions, including several deaths. But although the snow – two feet in Fort Collins, 20 inches in Greeley – did not wreck the devastation on buildings that we saw almost three years ago, it did cause a couple of weeks of lost productivity and inconvenience for businesses.

Roads quickly became impassible in the first storm, hitting the week before Christmas, and virtually every business in Northern Colorado shut down and sent their employees home. Many shut down on Wednesday, Dec. 20, and didn’t reopen until the following Tuesday or Wednesday.

By the time they got back up to strength, the second storm hit, prompting many to shut down again Dec. 29.

It’s the sort of disruption for which it’s difficult to plan. Here at the Northern Colorado Business Report, our ability to function depends largely on the availability of other businesses.

Our reporters can’t speak with sources if they’re not around. Our sales representatives can’t communicate with clients who aren’t there. Our newspapers can’t be delivered without postal service.

You get the picture.

Yes, we can do a lot of work from our homes. I wrote this column while sitting on my couch, with CNN playing in the background. Our editorial staff finished their work from their homes, e-mailing their final articles for this issue to our production team, which finished building the pages on their laptops, then uploaded them to our printer.

But working from home gets a business only so far. Without banks, mail and other essential services, the infrastructure that enables a business to function crumbles.

This experience has reinforced our commitment to complete something we should have had years ago: a disaster recovery plan. We made strides last year in improving our computer backups, but more needs to be done. And we thus far lack a detailed plan that is known and understood by all employees.

How do we continue functioning in the event of a disaster, such as a blizzard that shuts us down for a week? How will we deliver pages to the printer if the Internet goes down for an extended period? How would we conduct business if our building were to suffer a catastrophic fire?

There’s not much we could do without banks and postal service. But we can be a lot better prepared to handle those functions in our control.

Christopher Wood can be reached at (970) 221-5400 or via e-mail at cwood@ncbr.com. Catch his blog, Woody’s World, at www.ncbr.com.