August 3, 2008 in Business

Recent fires prompt look at importance of data backup

By The Spokesman-Review

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When the Dishman Hills fire roared across sections of the Spokane Valley last month, Karen Gregorian was relieved to learn her place of business didn’t go up in flames. The fire came within 50 feet or so of a converted garage she used as a classroom, off South University Road.

But after she visited the garage, where she offered classes in rubber stamping and scrapbooking, Gregorian found all her items were smoke-damaged. She said she lost $22,500 in materials. Luckily, records for her business, Stamp With Me, were in a laptop nowhere near the fire.

Three-alarm fires tend to remind business owners that they’re exposed to serious disruptions if they don’t have adequate systems for protecting and backing up key data, said John Ames, chairman of Spokane County’s Alliance for Business Continuity and Preparedness, a group that regularly helps area businesses learn how to avoid major disruptions from disasters or catastrophes.

Ames said nationwide data show 50 to 60 percent of small businesses are not prepared for major disruptions from fires, floods or other natural disasters. “And I’d say the percent is even higher in Spokane, because we don’t have a lot of ‘events’ to make business owners aware of the risk,” he said.

Gregorian admitted she’s among those who have avoided backing up their business data.

“If a fire got my laptop today, I’d be out of luck completely,” she said. Gregorian said she’s now considering backup options.

She’ll do what most small-business owners do, make copies of data and take the copies to a safe offsite location. Or she’ll pay an annual fee to one of several online backup companies to automate the backup for her.

Those online firms, such as Carbonite or XDrive, charge about $50 per year for making regular backups of key records.

Ames said the general pattern he’s seen after a large fire is that some customers who use commercial backup services contact the company to ensure those safety nets are up to date.

Another large group of business owners revert to the “It won’t happen to me” mind-set, said Ames, who also is vice president of business continuity and planning for IT-Lifeline, a Liberty Lake disaster preparedness and business services company.

Ames has one basic piece of advice: Don’t back up your business data to tapes, CDs or external hard drives and leave them in the building where your computers are.

The principle all security experts encourage is geographic separation. Even IT-Lifeline, which handles key business data for large companies in Eastern and Western Washington, sends backup tapes of those business records to another location, on the West Plains, Ames said.

Most businesses don’t realize fires are not a major risk in this area, he said. Security experts here say the more likely disruptions would come from winter storms, followed by wildfires, then a major chemical spill in the downtown area if a train derails.

“If a chemical spill occurred with a train derailment, it would mean a three-mile ring around the area would be shut down,” Ames said.

Several downtown Spokane businesses have contracts to have IT-Lifeline maintain always-on e-mail systems ready in case a disaster like a chemical spill shuts them down. Three of them are Rockwood Clinic, Allied Fire and Security, and Washington Trust Bank, Ames said.

In the cases of Allied and Rockwood Clinic, if their e-mail systems in their buildings shut down, backups turn on within seconds.

“The need for access to medical or patient records at the clinic requires quick restoration,” Ames said. “It would be transparent if something happens.”

Ames and other computer backup experts encourage businesses to do an analysis of their key company data and information. He suggests that owners and managers fully examine what information for a business is critical and what isn’t.

Many owners look at their business data and conclude their information is so vast that they fear a backup process will be expensive and unwieldy.

“In fact you don’t need to back up everything daily,” Ames said.

While disasters and natural events grab the attention of business owners, another concern is inside theft or vandalism, said Pat DeVries, owner of DeVries Information Management, which offers disaster backup and recovery services in the Spokane area.

“All it would take is one angry employee who goes into a company’s computer network and decides he’s going to retaliate against the owner for something,” DeVries said. Ames recommends business owners who want to research their options to start at the Web site of the Institute for Business and Home Safety: protection. The institute has a separate page at targeted toward home users.

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