“Hurricane Dorian formed on August 24, 2019, from a tropical wave in the Central Atlantic and gradually strengthened into a hurricane on August 28. By September 1, Dorian reached Category 5 intensity. On the morning of September 3, Dorian shifted toward the north-northwest. Dorian subsequently moved over warmer waters, regaining Category 3 intensity by midnight on September 5.
In the early hours of September 6, Dorian weakened to Category 1 intensity as it turned northeast. Dorian picked up speed and moved northeast along the North Carolina coast on September 6, clipping Cape Lookout and eventually making landfall at Cape Hatteras. “
As Dorian walked its path up the eastern coast, we began implementing our disaster recovery plans, starting in our Orlando market. With an onsite phone system, point-of-sale system, and office staff, our plans included securing and turning down systems for protection from electrical surges or wind damage. Dorian turned more northward, targeting South Carolina. Services were restored in Orlando as teams began focusing on operations in South Carolina. File servers and phone systems were addressed, teams were evacuated, and reservation calls were redirected. Evacuees worked from hotels with laptops and cell phones while waiting to return home. Dorian changed again and looked to be targeting northern South Carolina.
With multiple high-rise condominiums and a large central operations office there with an on-premises property management system (PMS), there was heightened attention to securing services and ensuring staff were able to operate even under evacuation. Multiple file servers, application servers, web servers, phone systems, call accounting systems, and point-of-sale systems had to secured, moved to higher floors, powered down, or supported by generator-backed uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Generator fuel was checked and teams waited for Dorian’s next move.
Dorian moved on and targeted the Outer Banks, where it would finally land. Weary tech teams began backing out changes in Myrtle Beach even as they moved on to the Outer Banks. The local Outer Banks teams were experienced storm riders and would not evacuate. Again, servers were powered down, phone lines rerouted, and backup satellite internet services tested. On September 7, our teams were still recovering services across the eastern coast and were ready for a rest. These activities spanned more than a full week and implemented unique disaster recovery plans across different destinations with varying services and needs. All were successfully achieved by a strong team following detailed plans that had been developed and tested over many years in cooperation with the local management teams. This was an extreme case, the likes of which most businesses will hopefully never have to experience.
Are you ready for disasters 2021 may bring? Will this year bring hurricanes, fires, or more lockdowns to your vacation rental destination? Whatever disaster you may face, you should always have a plan to recover and maintain business operations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that “roughly 40 percent to 60 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors following a disaster.”
Having disaster recovery and business continuity plans will help you quickly recover from any interruption you may experience.
Disaster Recovery (DR) focuses on planning activities that minimize data loss and IT system downtime in the event of a disaster. Disaster Recovery plans, therefore, involve backup facilities, platforms, and data sets to minimize the loss of availability of critical IT systems.
Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) focus on planning activities that minimize disruption to business operations when a disaster occurs and key IT systems are unavailable. BCPs, therefore, involve developing procedures and training staff on what steps to take when systems are unavailable. They also involve the procedures to invoke when IT systems are restored.
The growing reliance on technology in vacation rentals puts business operations at high risk of an outage event due to technology failures. Access to power and internet services are paramount to operational capabilities and growing reliance on cloud-hosted systems doubles their importance. Air conditioning and humidity control are equally important to digital equipment.
The core components of a good DR & BCP plan will include plans to minimize interruptions to normal operations, limit the extent of disruption or damage, minimize the economic impact of interruptions, establish alternative means of operations in advance, train personnel in emergency procedures, and provide for a smooth and rapid restoration of service.
Minimize Interruptions to Operations
To minimize the impacts on operations, identify key systems in your ecosystem and have plans for redundancy or recovery of those systems. How would you take reservation calls if your phone system failed? If your website is down, do you have the capacity to take increased inbound calls with trained staff? Could you manage your housekeeping schedule without access to the internet or your PMS? In an evacuation scenario, can you forward your main local phone number to another location?
Limit the Extent of Disruption or Damage
Limiting disruption or damage focuses on taking protective measures for your systems and assets. Have your staff move electronic equipment up off the floor and cover it with plastic in the event of a possible flood. Secure your important documents in a fireproof safe or offsite storage facility. Be sure you have current backups for any on-premises systems (a file server, for example) and take your media offsite on a regular basis.
Minimize the Economic Impact of Interruptions
If you plan in advance, you can limit the potential revenue loss from systems outages. It is important to review your vendor agreements for any cloud-based systems you use. Do the agreements commit the vendor to appropriate uptime commitments of 99.9 percent or higher and is there a financial penalty to the vendor for outages that exceed their service level agreements? For your own operations, does your business insurance include business interruption coverage? Ensuring your reservation team is up-to-date on current travel insurance coverage policies with talking points on hand for guest questions can help with guest relations and agent stress levels. Have documented processes to collect all relevant information and call back potential guests if your PMS is not available to query availability and process bookings.
Establish Alternative Means of Operations in Advance
All DR/BCP plans need to encompass how employees will communicate, where they will go, and how they will keep doing their jobs. Your people are your most important asset in your company. Maintain personnel contact lists with thorough contact information—including personal email and phone numbers—and individuals’ plans, including where they will evacuate to. This information should be updated at least annually and particularly in advance of an impending disaster. Have good documentation on what your plans are and store them where they are available to everyone— have printed copies available in case the internet is down, email the file to personal and work addresses, and store the information in a file share or other cloud storage. Ensure that you can post banner messages on your website about disaster impacts on your operations and provide updates and current contact information for your company. Arrange to have a virtual phone number in case your local lines are impacted. Do you have a platform to rapidly communicate with your owners about disaster impacts to reduce the number of direct calls you need to service from them? Leverage the automation in your guest concierge application to inform in-house guests of issues. This can alleviate communication bottlenecks and provide good guest service.
If you need your team to be in one facility to work together, make pre-arranged plans with an out-of-region hotel or conference center for appropriately sized committed workspace with internet and phone service.
Train Personnel on Emergency Procedures
Define roles and responsibilities during a disaster and cross-train your teams to fill those roles. Each core functional area should have a leader who will report back to leadership with statuses and issues needing attention. Stage an annual disaster recovery drill to reality-check your plans. Allocate a full day with your leaders in a working session to walk through your drills. Have someone play the devil’s advocate to question all your plans and add all the what-if scenarios. There is always something you haven’t thought of yet that could be added.
Provide for a Smooth and Rapid Restoration of Service
Plans should include the path to returning services to normal operations. Send your advance team back to assess impacts and coordinate work efforts needed. Contact vendors and suppliers early to ensure your priority with them. Coordinate with team members who are still remote to perform their normal work functions where possible. Communicate often and early with everyone involved, ensuring guests and owners are aware of your efforts on their behalf.
In summary, the adage “Prior planning prevents poor performance” holds true when dealing with disasters impacting your business. Taking time to implement a solid plan is worth the benefit and security it provides if the plan has to be enacted. Core plan components to consider including are:
2) Operations Profile
3) Applications Profile
4) Inventory Profile
5) Notification and Activation Procedures
6) Recovery Procedures
7) Testing & Maintenance Procedures
8) Alternate Site Requirements
9) Return to Normal Operations
10) Communication Plan
If it seems overwhelming or too time-consuming to address these plans on your own, consider leveraging a third-party consultant to help you create your own specific plans.