I’ve written dozens of articles about business continuity and disaster recovery. Experts stress that every company should have a formal plan detailing how it would continue operating when a calamity strikes. They cite horror stories about companies that suffered serious consequences – from bad PR to going out of business – because they weren’t prepared.
How does a freelancer plan for disasters? For years, I simply prayed they wouldn’t happen and scrambled when they did. But as I’ve wrestled with the wrath of nature, spotty utility service and just plain rotten luck, I’ve taped together a few safety nets. They won’t impress the experts, but they don’t cost much and so far have been reasonably effective.
Power outages. I’m on a weak part of the grid, so my power goes out on a regular basis, sometimes for no apparent reason. I have my PC and office equipment on an APC surge-protected uninterruptible power supply that cost less than $100. It protects my PC when the power flicks on and off. It provides backup power to keep everything running for 20 minutes after the electricity stops, then shuts everything down in an orderly way – so no data is lost nor sensitive electronics damaged. If my power stays off for longer than it takes to walk the dog, I have a couple of options. I can devote the time to phone work, placing voice mails or doing interviews. If I’m on deadline to write a story, I can move to my battery-powered laptop. (I keep current projects on a USB drive so I can plug it into the laptop when needed.) When battery juice is gone, or if I must have e-mail and Web access, I move to the nearest Starbucks or to a nearby friend or relative’s house.
Phone problems. If I depended on Verizon to fix phone problems promptly, I would have been out of business a long time ago. I have two phone lines, so if I have problems with one I can usually use the other. But my two-line phone can get fried by a power surge, despite the fact that it’s plugged into the surge protector. It seems to happen during thunderstorms and I suspect the surge is coming through the phone wiring itself rather than the electrical connection. I go through two to three phones a year because of this. So I’m prepared by having a back-up new two-line phone – brand new and still in the box –in my storage closet.
Hard drive crashes. For me, backing up data was like dieting. I could stick with it for a week or two, but that was about it. After years of dodging this particular disaster, I finally found a painless way to safeguard my data. Mozy is a service that for $5 a month automatically backs up my PC every night, or whenever I want. It’s also handy when I’m on the move with my laptop, because I can log into Mozy and grab any files that I might need.
Illness. Here’s where I’m most vulnerable. My latest disaster recovery story covered how IT departments can prepare for the swine flu pandemic. But there was little advice that I could use. In a company of one, I’m in deep trouble if the one falls ill. Good thing I’m healthy and tough. When I had an emergency appendectomy a few years ago, I took my files to the ER and worked while waiting to see a doctor. I was a little late on the story, but got it done.