Gartner: U.S. Firms Unprepared for Disasters

A large percentage of U.S. companies are unprepared to face business and IT outages caused by a severe calamity, according to the results of a survey released by research firm Gartner Dataquest Tuesday.

The survey found 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 — said 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.