Heads up, small business owners. An extended power outage, statistics show, is very likely in your future. Sure, fires and flooding are also potential menaces, but the most devastating – and the most common – cause of business interruption is the “blackout.”

Our aging and over-used power grid, combined with a greater number of extreme weather events, are to blame, with outages increasing six-fold between 2000 and 2013. The first six months of 2014 alone saw a record 130 reported grid outages. These events disrupt data-dependent organizations and exert the greatest impact on smaller businesses.

 Few Small Businesses Are Prepared for Tech Interruption 
A Harris Interactive poll of 500 US small business owners with fewer than 300 employees, conducted last June, found that three in four had no disaster recovery plan. One-third of those said disaster recovery was not important, citing time and cost as barriers. Among smaller companies (under 50 employees), disaster planning was even less prevalent, with only 18 percent reporting a plan in place. There is a genuine survival threat here, because almost half of the surveyed companies said they had no access to a generator and more than half lacked business interruption insurance. Small companies like these are the least likely to survive a service interruption that would cut them off from key data, such as customer lists and email. Small businesses, in fact, are unlikely to survive a serious disruption of their data networks.

Business Continuity: Now Easier and More Affordable 
Every company understands the importance of backing up its data. But while this process protects against data loss, having a current copy of a company’s information alone does nothing to prevent downtime. This is an important distinction of business continuity, which ensures that data is not only available but instantly recoverable – enabling an organization to keep functioning during a disaster vs. simply recovering from it after the fact.

Until recently, only companies with big budgets could afford to maintain the remote backup servers and workstations needed to ensure truly seamless operation. However, things have changed. The growth of cloud storage is putting data recovery within everyone’s reach. One of the beauties of cloud storage is it makes data instantly recoverable – no waiting for tapes stored in a remote physical location. Business can flow uninterrupted, as managers and employees access their cloud-based files from any location, continuing their work without a pause.

Five Building Blocks for Business Continuity
Business continuity is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. IBS counsels our small business clients to focus on two key metrics: recovery point objective (RPO) – how frequently backups should be taken based on how much data they can reasonably lose – and recovery time objective (RTO) – how long they can afford to be offline. These are core questions, and the answers differ from business to business.

Although each business has its unique recovery needs, we have identified five factors essential to every continuity plan:

  1. Effective hardware engineering. An effective failover system is based on the RPO and RTO. How much data can you afford to lose and how long can you be offline? How much capacity is necessary?
  2. Functioning and up-to-date software. Without properly installed and maintained data back-up and storage applications, even the best failover plan will fail.
  3. Proper planning and communication. Staff must know when and how to access the system. Roles and procedures must be understood.
  4. Review and testing. Failover systems need a field test at least quarterly, so that the performance of the system and the staff can be assessed.
  5. Monitoring. Hardware and software should be checked regularly and adjustments and corrections made immediately.

Putting Your Continuity Plan in Place 
There has never been a better time to secure your business’ continuity. You may choose to work with your internal IT resources or turn to a technology partner – a good way to ease the decision-making process. Whichever route you choose, the resulting co antiquity plan will protect you against devastating losses and provide you with peace of mind even if the lights go out.

For more on this subject, IBS’s Mike Mullin speaks to GlobeSt. reporter Steve Lubetkin in a recent podcast. You can hear it here.