U.S. Unprepared for Disasters

Many U.S. companies and households don’t have procedures in place to deal with IT outages, natural disasters, or terrorist strikes, according to a pair of studies. Gartner Dataquest found that a large percentage of U.S. companies are unprepared to face business and IT outages caused by a severe calamity, and that one third of U.S. businesses face the loss of critical data or operational capability in the wake of a disaster, unless investments toward disaster preparedness planning are made.

“More prioritized investments must be made to ensure that businesses can quickly regain productivity after a calamity,” said Tony Adams, principal analyst for Gartner Dataquest’s IT Services group. “Preparation is the key, and without adequate investment for protection of critical systems, the repercussions of disasters will be lengthier and more costly.”

But cost is one of the primary reasons many of the companies surveyed cited for not having a disaster preparedness plan. Gartner said 24 percent of the respondents said lack of funds was the root for not initiating a formal disaster plan.

“IT managers are not investing appropriately in disaster plans because they do not have a budget to accomplish their needed readiness,” Adams said. “Budget constraints are forcing an average of 40 percent of respondents to rely on a ‘best guess’ to determine potential risk rather than obtaining formal assessments, which would be too costly.”

Funding is also hampering the efforts of companies that do have an organizational disaster plan in place. The survey found that 37 percent of IT managers who have a plan lack the funding to get those plans to a “satisfactory” level.

However, Adams noted that businesses have become more aware of the need for disaster planning.

“The good news is that businesses now more widely understand that they must prepare in advance to solve the complex logistical and personnel problems inherent in a disaster,” Adams said. “Responsible leaders will rely on preparatory investment to better the odds of surviving such a hit to their business.”

Most disaster preparedness experts say that sophisticated real-time remote backup capabilities are the foundation of disaster recovery plans. In other words, it’s all about redundancy, redundancy and more redundancy.

In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, Lee Clarke, associate professor of Sociology at Rutgers University – and an expert in organizations, technology and disasters – told Internetnews.com that the redundancy must be “meaningful,” which is not always taken into account. For instance, Clarke noted that many of the organizations in the World Trade Center had their disaster facilities in one of the other towers or buildings that were part of the complex.

Other experts said effective plans begin outside the existence of a specific attack by identifying critical operations and building off-site facilities that can serve those needs. They also said exercising the plan regularly, so that employees can respond to an emergency without thinking about it, is key.

Gartner surveyed 205 U.S. professionals for the report, noting that the respondents were responsible for, or knowledgeable about, their organizations’ business continuity and disaster recovery planning. The firm said it administered the survey via the Web in November 2002.

On the homefront, a Duracell/Harris Interactive study conducted during February 2003 among 2,012 Americans in 10 cities, revealed that 64 percent of households do not have disaster preparedness plans, and 38 percent say being prepared for a disaster is not a personal priority.

Households with Disaster Plans
Los Angeles 48 percent
San Francisco 43 percent
Atlanta 39 percent
Washington, D.C. 37 percent
Detroit 34 percent
Dallas 32 percent
Chicago 31 percent
Boston 28 percent
Philadelphia 27 percent
New York City 22 percent
Source: Harris Interactive

Other findings include:

  • 62 percent of households lack a disaster supply kit, and San Francisco was the only surveyed city in which more than half (57 percent) said they have a kit. More than three-quarters (78 percent) have a first aid kit.
  • 51 percent of households don’t have an evacuation plan, with only Detroit (52 percent), Atlanta (52 percent), and Los Angeles (51 percent), reporting a majority of households with a plan.
  • 52 percent of the households said at least one member is trained in CPR, with Atlanta ranking first at 59 percent.
  • Three-quarters of households know how to contact each other in the event of an emergency.
  • More than one-quarter (27 percent) of households surveyed with children under the age of 18 were not sure whether their children’s schools have disaster plans. In New York, that percentage was the highest, at 37 percent.

As a sign of the times, terrorism and fire weighed almost equally on the fear scale – 27 percent said that they feared terrorism the most, and 28 percent said fire. Unsurprisingly, 38 percent of New Yorkers – the highest among the cities surveyed – were most fearful of terrorism, while only 19 percent in Los Angeles and San Francisco rank terrorism as their biggest fear. In these two cities, earthquakes are by far the biggest concern, at 42 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

Related reading