CyAs Tech’s Take: Disaster Preparation. Are You Ready?

by | Best-Practice, Cloud, community

Since Spring is in full bloom, we’ve been talking a lot about preparation. 

These days, the reality is that it’s imperative to be ready for anything that might happen. Covid was a major wake-up call worldwide, and more locally the CZU fires in California. We’re covering the topic of preparation from many different aspects like fire safety, and cloud backup for not only life related stuff but business continuity too.  

While compiling our information we realized we have some special insight into this topicNearly all our employees were evacuated last summer, and as I was talking about the subject with our team, it dawned on me that we actually have three former volunteer firefighters at CyAs! 

Since there is growing concern over fire safety, home hardening, and preparednesswe decided to share some of their in-depth knowledge on these matters. Jen, our HR and Accounting Manager, and the oneandonly Phil, the owner and CEO of CyAs, both have a background in firefighting, and I asked them for their thoughts.  

Here’s Jen’s take. 

Jen: “I live in a beautiful mountain area. A long time ago, I was a volunteer firefighter/EMT. I learned a few things from that experience, but even more by being evacuated multiple times for wildland fires in our area.

I learned what things were essential to have ready and to grab quickly if we’re evacuated. We packed those things before fire season even got going and made a list by the door of essential things to grab so we wouldn’t forget something in our hurry to leave, or if there was only one person home to grab things for the family.

I learned to mentally let go of A LOT of material things.

I made a binder with closeable flaps with all our important papers, like passports, birth certificates, etc. so I didn’t have to think, just grab.

I made sure all my work files and computer accessories were in one place, so I could just throw it all in my tote bag and go.

The most important thing I did before last summer’s devastating CZU Lightning Complex Fire was backup almost all my pictures on a hard drive. That was the thing I was most afraid of losing, and when we first got reports our neighborhood was probably going to burn down, the thing I was most grateful I had taken the time to do.

Did I remember everything? No. Definitely not. But I’m continually working on adding things to the backup, like copies of letters, children’s school memories, scrapbooks, etc. It’s unfortunately an ongoing prep chore. But if we get evacuated this year, or lose the contents of our house entirely, some things will be saved.

I already know technology is incredibly useful and important. It may be even more so where we live, and crucial during an emergency. We have no cell service. We have WiFi for cell calls, texts, and alerts when we have power. After power is out for 2-3 hours, Comcast’s battery backup fails. So, no calls, and no internet. When the lightning storm came through in August 2020, we lost power immediately, and for two days after it was hot, smoky, and embers and ash rained down all day, with no information about whether the fires were anywhere near us.

I live near a small craft airport, and fire helicopters doing water drops staged and refueled there, so helicopters took off and landed all day. This was partly reassuring and partly nerve wracking without any information about our area. We drove down the mountain a few times a day to check news, texts, emails, and our local emergency apps, PulsePoint and scanrad.io. If something happened during the night, we just had to hope someone would alert us.

On the third night after the initial storm, we went to town to get out of the smoke and heat, and suddenly there was alert after alert on Facebook that fires were erupting all over the mountain. Not one fire, like usual, traveling in a predictable direction, but multiple fires, multiple neighborhoods, story after story of loss and devastation. Then stories of neighbors pitching in, helping each other, coordinating efforts, and rescues. I checked PulsePoint, and fires were being added in real time, one after another. Scanrad.io is hosted by a local on our mountain, and it provided radio transmissions to listen to until fire consumed his radio tower and cameras captured fire advancing and finally burning his entire property. It was an overwhelming amount of information to take in. But it so helpful to know what was going on and having several sources to check made me able to remain calm.

My mom and brother were evacuated from their town too and were able to watch camera feed on their phones from their security cameras to see if the fire had reached their neighborhoods. After the first couple of days, fire maps and evacuation zones were continuously updated and made available to the public. People were so kind. They texted and called and checked in on us, and some felt moved to Venmo me funds to pass on for those that lost everything.

Some of our neighbors stayed because there weren’t enough fire resources. Not only did they patrol the road and put out multiple fires, but they also hiked halfway down the hill to be able to send an update to the road (via Google email thread) about status and supplies needed. They couldn’t leave without being barred from getting back in, so this communication was the only way they could let someone know. Some of us have landlines they could have used, but this way they could contact the entire road (about 45 homes) at once.

The rest of us who were evacuated tried to take care of our regular lives in between watching news reports and checking statuses. We continued to work, while being guests in someone else’s home, taking care of children, and some of us setting up in evacuation centers. 70% of our company was evacuated at the same time. Thankfully, we had figured out how to work remotely efficiently during Covid and CyAs Tech was incredibly flexible during this crazy time. Technology (and having someone to call in IT) helped me continue to do what I needed and to get information. Moving the location for work was the easiest part of the whole experience. I can’t imagine going through what we did without having access to information, of having access to all the various sources. Having ways for people to connect, to help one another, was probably the most important thing throughout this experience, and I am still so grateful for that.”

It’s clear that Jen has a great plan in place, but the most important takeaway is that you’ve got to be willing to let go of the material things. If you prepare and you have some things you cherish ready and backed-up, you’ll be a lot better off in the long run not only in a business sense but emotionally too!  

Phil took the time to weigh in on this subject too, and here’s what he had to say.  

Phil: “So much goes through my mind when asked about disaster recovery and continuity planning. Personally, I very much enjoy the mental exercise of planning and preparing for the unknown. My father was a chief of police and responsible at the city level for any disasters that might arise and the 6 “P’s” were passed down to me- “Proper pre-planning prevents poor performance”. Personally, we experienced Wildland fires in our area last year to the point where we were evacuated for 7 days. No matter the situation one might face, having a plan is key.

As an IT Leader, I’m often asked to present and plan for disaster scenarios for my clients. Disaster planning is an effort in cost-benefit tradeoffs. Very quickly can the cost of a disaster recovery scenario far outweigh the actual benefit it might bring or at least what one can afford. If cost wasn’t an issue, everyone would have their sites completely redundant, but we all know that’s not possible. For my business clients, I focus on the basics and put solutions in that are affordable and reliable. We utilize Microsoft Azure for redundant environments as well as full migrations of their entire compute systems. This provides high availability and resilience should anything happen and proved invaluable during the Covid 19 pandemic. File synchronization to common platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint, and Google Drive coupled with Cloud Backup are our standard because synchronization alone can have problems. Email is a commodity item that should be moved to the cloud (Microsoft 365 or Google Gmail) and we are still helping companies that have on premise email servers (some as old as Exchange 2010) migrate to cloud email. Even ERP applications that require client-server database connections should be migrated to cloud environments utilizing terminal services and virtual servers.

As the former captain of a volunteer fire fighting company, fire preparation is forefront in my mind. Personally, my wife and I (mostly my wife) have spent the time scanning and synchronizing our photos to Google Photo. We have scanned key documents and placed on an encrypted USB storage device we keep locked in our fire safe. At the beginning of Covid last year, we spend many hours putting together our everyday carry backpacks and our bedside bug-out-bags. We sleep better knowing we can get out of bed, grab those bags and be self-sufficient for 3 days no matter what happens. I have detailed lists of what we keep in our go bags if anyone is interested.

Preplanning is critical but don’t over think it. Start with something basic like water, food, basic tools and utensils, flashlight, radio, extra batteries, chargers, first aid kit, clothes, medications, and basic toiletries” .

 

After reading Phil and Jen’s feedback, it seems that the most important thing is that you have yourself, your family, your animals, and your most important documents safe. After that it’s really what you choose to be of the most importance. Letting the physical objects go and having a solid plan in place is the best you can do. It’s not always going to work out, but like Phil said, it’s all about the 6 P’s “Proper pre-planning prevents poor performance”. 

Contact Us if you would like some help getting all your business essentials backed up so that in the case something does happen, you’re as prepared as possible!   

 

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