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How to Prepare and Implement a Disaster Recovery Plan

The value of a Disaster Recovery or Control Plan is the ability to react to a threat or event swiftly and efficiently. This can only be achieved when a department has informed staff, disaster supplies and planned procedures -- in short, a Disaster Recovery Plan.

What was discussed earlier about planning for disaster prevention applies equally to planning for disaster recovery. The planning is a senior management function and cannot succeed without top level support. Recognition of the need for such a plan must be present at an early stage, no matter who stimulates this awareness.

A written authorization statement makes management's support for the disaster planning process clear to all employees. The original mandate must spell out the plan's goals and objectives so that top management's expectations are met.


Records Management is just one of many resources available to the University. The key to having a comprehensive disaster prevention and recovery plan is to draw from all of these resources/plans.

One of the primary resources we have identified, not only from a records management perspective but also nationwide among large companies, is the opportunity to relocate backup information and systems that are vital to our University's success, survival and reputation. Because we are a four campus system, each campus can be a vital resource for each of the other campuses as a distant off-site storage location (90 to 128 miles apart) for backup of information systems. In the event of a wide-spread disaster such as a tornado or earthquake, UM's system of wide-spread campuses could serve as off-site backup facilities with very little cost to the system.


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The Disaster Recovery Plan

The Disaster Recovery Plan should be prepared by the Disaster Recovery Committee, which should include representatives from all critical departments or areas of the department's functions. The committee should include at least one representative from management, computing, risk management, records management, security, and building maintenance. The actual size and composition of the committee will depend on the size, location, and structure of the individual department or facility.
The committee needs to prepare a time line to establish a reasonable deadline for completing the written plan. This time line may take the form of a Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) chart or a decision.


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Team Task Organization

The plan must spell out the titles and functions of each team member involved in the disaster recovery process. The individuals who will compose the team or teams should be identified by title or position and name. In a small facility or department with only a handful of employees, the entire staff may become the Disaster Recovery Team with one person designated to lead the recovery effort. The person named Recovery Director or Coordinator must be given the necessary authority to declare a disaster, and to act quickly and effectively during the salvage operation.


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Information Distribution Procedures

The plan must include specific methods for contacting team members and alternates, vendors, support agencies, suppliers, consultants and all those with whom special disaster contracts and agreements are in effect.


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Specific Disaster Reactions

The plan must provide for both major and minor disasters, and must address individual and community-wide natural disasters such as tornados and general flooding. Your plan should also define in terms of business interruption what constitutes a disaster; thus, authorizing the activation of the disaster recovery plan.


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Training of Employees

The recovery plan must provide for initial and ongoing employee training. Skills are needed in the reconstruction and salvage phases of the recovery process. Your initial training can be accomplished through professional seminars, special in-house educational programs, the wise use of consultants and vendors, and individual study tailored to the needs of your department. A minimal amount of training is necessary to assist professional restorers/recovery contractors and others having little knowledge of your information, level of importance, or general operations.


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Priorities for the Restoration of Essential Functions

Your disaster recovery plan must not only spell out which functions are vital, but also the order they are restored. This is especially critical in the vital, complex computing functions where accounts receivable, payroll, and accounts payable have fluctuating priorities throughout the month.

The plan should establish only general priorities. Leave individual decisions to managers who know which functions are critical at a specific period of the month or in a particular situation.


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Contracts and Agreements with Disaster Support Agencies

Copies of contracts and agreements with all disaster support agencies and businesses including salvage and reconstruction consultants, available alternative sites, and vendors of other essential equipment and supplies must be included in the written plan; or otherwise arranged by UM Risk Management.

Agreements are a less formal means of providing emergency services particularly where goodwill is involved in promising help to charitable organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies. The Eastman Kodak Company is one large organization that has provided reprocessing services for water-damaged film to its customers for years through informal agreements.

A list of additional recovery resources should include:

  • Local fire department
  • Police department
  • Civil defense
  • Ambulance services
  • Paper supply vendors
  • Copy machine(s)
  • Office equipment
  • Computer equipment and supplies
  • Resources for freezer space/freezer trucks
  • Local volunteers or temporary help

The disaster recovery plan must specify by name, address, position, and phone number the various resources the disaster team will use.


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A List of Disaster Salvage Equipment and Supplies

A list of the equipment and supplies gathered for the disaster salvage kit forms part of the disaster recovery plan. This list should indicate the available items and their location. Each department must decide what items should or should not be included on the supply list. Below are some items to consider:

In House
  • Employee identification (arm bands, badges)
  • Blotting paper
  • Packaging tape
  • Freezer paper
  • Paper towels (not colored)
  • Plastic milk crates
  • First aid kit
  • Gloves - rubber
  • Flashlights/batteries
  • Sponges
  • Pencils or pens
  • Soot sponges
  • Permanent markers
  • String
  • Heavy plastic sheeting
  • Unprinted newspaper
  • Overalls
  • Camera and film
  • Mops
  • Copiers
  • Ladders
  • Pallets
  • Radios/batteries
Purchase or Rent
  • Plastic trash cans (large and small)
  • Extension cords
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Plastic trash bags
  • Soot sponges
  • Wet vacuum
  • Water movers (squeegees)
  • String
  • Forklift
  • Batteries
  • Generators
  • Hand trucks
  • Safety glasses
  • Labels
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Tie tags
  • Permanent markers

Your disaster recovery supplies can be assembled within the department as part of disaster planning, or they can be purchased after a disaster from previously contracted suppliers. The latter approach is risky in a general disaster when such supplies are in great demand.


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Blueprints and Floor Plans of Building

This information is essential during the preparation and salvage stages to locate utility connections, electrical switches, alarms, potentially dangerous floors or ceilings, hazardous materials, and access to damaged areas. Gas, water, and electricity must be turned off as soon as possible after a disaster. In situations with advance warning, utilities can be shut down in advance.

The first step in the recovery process is the restoration of climate controls. This is especially true if the damage is by water (wet documents). Wet paper, or most any other material, will develop mold within 48-to-72 hours in a warm and humid environment. An accurate picture of access routes, storage areas, and equipment locations allows the recovery team to quickly take control and assess the extent of the damage.

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A disaster recovery plan maps out the process of resuming normal business operations, reconstructing or salvaging vital and other important records and equipment, and becomes a guide for all managers and employees during and after a disaster. The plan's key elements fall into three categories: those common to all sections of the plan; those pertaining mainly to the resumption of business operations; and those pertaining mainly to the reconstruction or salvage of vital University records.

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Reviewed 2023-09-11