How to Protect Your Network From a Natural Disaster

Because information technology and water don't play well together

Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean Sea, Tropical Storm Jose (R) in the Atlantic Ocean and Tropical Storm Katia in the Gulf of Mexico

Handout / Getty Images News

Whether you're managing computer assets and networks for a small business, a large corporation, or your own home, you need to plan for natural disasters — because, as we all know, information technology and water don't mix. Here are some basic steps to ensure that your network and IT investments survive in the event of a disaster such as a flood or a hurricane.

Develop a Disaster Recovery Plan

The key to successfully recovering from a natural disaster is to have a good disaster recovery plan in place before something bad happens. Test your plan periodically to ensure that everyone involved knows what to do during such an event.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has excellent resources for developing disaster recovery plans. Check out NIST's "Special Publication 800-34: Contingency Planning Guide" to get started.

Get Your Priorities Straight (Safety First)

Obviously, protecting people is the priority. Never put your network and servers ahead of keeping your staff safe. Never operate in an unsafe environment. Always ensure that the proper authorities have deemed your facilities and equipment safe for use before you begin any recovery or salvage operations.

With safety issues addressed, you should have a system restoration priority so you can focus on standing up your critical infrastructure and servers at an alternate location. Have management identify which business functions they want back online first, and then focus on restoring what is needed to ensure safe recovery of mission-critical systems.

Label and Document Your Network and Equipment

Pretend that you just found out that a major storm is two days away and it is going to flood your building. Most of your infrastructure is in the basement, which means you are going to have to relocate the equipment elsewhere. The teardown process will likely be rushed, so you need to have your network well documented so that you can resume operations at an alternate location.

Accurate network diagrams are essential for guiding network technicians as they reconstruct your network at the alternate site. Label as much as you can with straightforward naming conventions that everyone on your team understands. Keep a copy of all network diagram information at an offsite location.

Prepare to Move Your IT Investments to Higher Ground

Gravity likes to keep water at the lowest point possible, so plan to relocate your infrastructure equipment to higher ground in the event of a major flood. Make arrangements with your building manager to have a safe, temporary storage location on a non-flood-prone floor where you can move network equipment that might be flooded.

If the entire building is likely to be trashed or flooded, find an alternate site that is not in a flood zone. If it's in a high-risk area, consider a different alternate site.

Visit FloodSmart.gov and enter the address of your potential alternate site to see if it is in a flood zone.

Make sure your disaster recovery plan covers the logistics of who's going to move what, how they are going to do it, and when they are going to move operations to the alternate site.

Move the expensive items first (switches, routers, firewalls, servers) and least expensive stuff last (computers and printers).

If you're designing a server room or data center, consider locating it in an area of your building that isn't prone to flooding, such as a non-ground level floor. This will save you the headache of relocating equipment during a flood altogether.

Have Good Backups Before a Disaster Strikes

Without good backups, having even the safest alternate site won't help because you won't be able to restore your valuable data. Ensure that your scheduled backups are happening frequently and on time, and check the backup media to make sure it is actually capturing data. Also, ensure that administrators are reviewing backup logs and that backups are not failing silently.