Preparing for the Worst

A customer of yours hears a tornado siren blaring in the distance and takes cover in his storm shelter. Soon after, a roaring freight train seemingly passes overhead. The customer is worried about the safety of his family but not about rebuilding his business, thanks to you and your forward-thinking disaster recovery plan.

A business continuity plan (BCP) is a preparation document that enables a company to recover all of its business operations after a disaster, and a disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a preparation document that enables a company to recover its technology after a disaster. According to Patty Catania, COO of TAMP Systems Inc., Merrick, N.Y., a continuity plan provider, components include knowing which officials to meet with to determine whether and what kind of disaster has occurred and manage the incident, creating procedures for notifying designated recovery teams and key staff responsible for keeping business processes running, accessing emergency procedure information and emergency agency contact information, determining mission-critical procedural documentation for business units, and having recovery resource information such as the equipment required to run the business, personnel contacts, software inventory, vendor and client contacts, and vital business records.

“The goal of a DRP is to minimize the short- and long-term effects of a disaster and to take steps to resume operations of business resources, personnel, and business processes as quickly and safely as possible. The broader concept of a BCP is to get critical systems to a different environment while repair of the original facilities is underway and to conduct business in a different mode until normal conditions are recovered, and it should describe how to deal with partners, customers and shareholders during recovery,” said Eric Johnston, CEO of Americas Generators, Miami.

Role of the electrical contractor
One of the ways the electrical contractor can help develop a DRP and BCP for its customers is to partner with experts in business continuity to evaluate the customer’s infrastructure and make recommendations concerning the necessary redundant electrical feeds and risers, telecommunication lines, and to determine the correct uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and backup power generation loads.

“The electrical contractor can use its expertise to design and implement the most effective power distribution units [PDUs], as well as work with the mechanical contractor to determine how to best protect the HVAC system and limit liabilities,” said Peter Messina, senior vice president and COO of Computer Alternative Processing Sites (CAPS) Inc., Shelton, Conn.

According to Johnston, the electrical contractor can discuss a DRP and BCP with the customer early in the negotiation process to set expectations and organize the project to meet those goals.

“Companies that have already developed a BCP will have a clearer idea of what is necessary to reallocate resources and to recover quickly from a disaster,” he said.

Contractors need to remember, however, that one of the most difficult aspects of creating a BCP is calculating risk. Some calculations, such as mean time between failures and mean time to repair service are straight-forward, while some threats are more elusive.

“What is the likelihood of someone using a car to plow into a building? The chance is small, but does the contractor’s customer have a plan in place in case its facility experiences an outage for whatever reason—car, earthquake, flood, tornado, etc.?” Johnston said.

Since power anomalies are much more likely to occur after natural disasters, electrical contractors must insist on including power protection in system sales, said Bill Allen, director of marketing at Para Systems Inc., Carrollton, Texas, provider of Minuteman Power Technologies. Contractors also can help customers by examining what systems, services and functions are essential both during and after a disaster.

“Planning should focus on keeping employees and customers safe and secure first. Part of protecting people includes being able to communicate and manage personnel during an event as well as safeguarding equipment and assets to use as tools in the protection of people,” he said.

That equipment should be categorized as mission- or nonmission-critical and then prioritized according to importance.

Opportunities and challenges
“An electrical contractor that is prepared to educate its clients on the differences between a DRP and BCP can promote the need for being prepared and is in a position to help develop the necessary physical and IT-based resources and documentation,” Catania said.

And because the electrical contractor is already in the building and has an existing relationship with the customer, it can become part of the BRP consulting team and use its knowledge base to make recommendations, evaluate the customer’s needs, and ensure that third-party vendors can properly meet those needs.

According to research performed or reviewed by Para Systems, the electrical contractor and specifier are still key influencers in the purchasing decision for power protection within a facility.

“This is especially true in the small and medium-sized business market, where the contractor is a trusted adviser and the owner relies heavily on the contractor’s recommendations because they are too busy running their business to research and test devices or systems,” Allen said.

As always, challenges can create hurdles a savvy contractor may be able to anticipate and, therefore, more easily overcome.

“It can be a challenge to get the customer’s management to buy into and budget for something that may or may not happen,” Catania said.

Customers may offer several objections, such as that a UPS system is too expensive, their power is good an overwhelming majority of the time, the building the customer occupies is backed up by a generator, surge strips offer enough protection, or the it’ll “never happen to me” attitude. According to Allen, however, these challenges can be met with facts including that UPS pricing is at an all-time low, power problems can occur anytime, some building generators only operate emergency light and fire systems, surge strips provide no protection during brownouts or blackouts and that surges and spikes represent only 7 percent of power problems, the average business has 28 potential damaging power issues per year (according to market research firm J.D. Power and Associates), and the cost of power protection is far less than one damaging power event.

Technology and market development have removed typical barriers to electrical contractor involvement. According to Messina, software tools can automatically update plans, which are stored in the cloud and can be accessed anywhere. Furthermore, resources within the local utility and from telecommunication providers make establishing a plan a cinch. Allen added that there also are many websites that have suggestions on planning and consider the various aspects of power protection and implementation.

Planning for the future
Disaster recovery is a growing market. According to the Global Industry Analysts’ (GIA) “Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Solutions and Services: A Global Strategic Business Report,” the global market for BCP and DRP solutions and services is forecast to reach $61.7 billion by 2017. It is estimated that increasing levels of enterprise exposure to external and internal threats or risks and a burgeoning focus on risk management solutions as a strategic tool for achieving sustainable, long-term growth will primarily drive expansion in the market over the next few years. Other drivers include the desire to sharpen competitive advantages and organizations’ increasing dependency on information technology (IT) solutions for managing critical data and subsequent fears over system failures and data losses due to natural or manmade disasters or other events.

According to the GIA’s Strategic Report, market prospects for the future remain encouraging. Government bailouts and rescue packages have already helped large companies in most industrial sectors make successful turnarounds. It also is estimated that, since the chances of a business failure are extremely high after a disaster in the absence of a BCP, adoption of DRP and BCP solutions in the post recession period will drive the market forward. IT infrastructure upgrades in the healthcare, educational, financial and governmental sectors also are expected to benefit the market in the future, and outsourcing the development of these plans will gather momentum in the upcoming years.

“Offering DRP and BCP services promotes an excellent partnership between contractors and their customers and demonstrates that the contractor truly cares about its customers’ long-term well-being,” Catania said.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and

About the Author

Darlene Bremer

Freelance Writer
Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.

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