What is Disaster Recovery? Definition, Solutions and Careers

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A disaster recovery specialist discusses his plan with corporate leaders.Imagine a Category 4 hurricane makes landfall, unleashing some 40 inches of rain, damaging thousands of homes and businesses throughout the region. A small business’ office may be completely flooded. Employees may not be able to work on-site for days, even weeks. Utility lines may be out for a prolonged time, and key digital data files may be lost to power surges or equipment failure.

While such occurrences may seem unlikely, they are far from impossible, and the ramifications can be extreme. Businesses must prepare for all possible contingencies. They must have plans and procedures for mitigating these risks and responding to any adverse events that occur. That’s what the field of disaster recovery is all about.

To understand what disaster recovery is and the steps businesses can take to ensure their preparedness, it’s important to be aware of the resources and solutions available. Individuals interested in a career in the disaster recovery field would do well to consider earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management.

What is Disaster Recovery?

Disaster recovery represents the formal planning process through which a business creates its blueprint for responding to disruptive occurrences, which may include anything from natural disasters to cyberattacks to power outages. The disaster recovery process typically results in a disaster recovery plan, a formal document that outlines roles, policies, procedures and resource allocation to help company leaders navigate the aftermath of a cataclysmic event.

The ultimate goal of a disaster recovery plan is to provide a way for companies to minimize the effects of the disaster and return to normal operations as quickly as possible. It is important to remember that disasters can have seismic effects across an organization, including lost productivity, lost revenues, damage to brand reputation and customer dissatisfaction. Through a disaster recovery plan, businesses seek to get back up and running as expediently as possible, ideally minimizing or controlling these ill effects.

Disaster recovery plans must address all possible contingencies. It’s not enough for companies to safeguard against data loss; it’s also necessary to account for building damage or utilities that are out for days at a time. Additionally, successful disaster recovery plans address all aspects of business operations, including telephone and internet outage and the inability to use certain parts of the building.

The Evolution of Disaster Recovery

The field of disaster recovery has evolved significantly in recent decades. Before the 1970s, the main concern in disaster recovery was simply ensuring that paper copies of all important documents were made and safely stored. In other words, companies mainly sought to make certain that if important records were lost to fire or flood, they had backups.

As more and more business operations have shifted to computers, disaster recovery has come to prioritize digital data backups, cybersecurity and related elements. Companies increasingly seek to ensure their important files remain cloud-accessible even if their main operational center is inaccessible. The advent of cloud computing is regarded as a milestone in disaster recovery, providing companies with multiple ways to minimize uncertainty of their digital assets.

What Does Disaster Recovery Encompass?

It’s important to emphasize that while disaster recovery places much focus on the recovery of digital files, it’s not only concerned with cybercrimes. A good disaster recovery plan will encompass all of the following.

  • Natural disasters, including fire, flood, hurricane and other significant storms
  • Power or utility outage due to weather or infrastructure issues
  • Data loss, whether due to hackers or employee carelessness

Any event that disrupts normal business operations may fall under the heading of disaster recovery. In fact, the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted many companies to revise their disaster recovery plans with infectious disease in mind.

Disaster Recovery vs. Business Continuity

Disaster recovery is closely related to business continuity. Both are about planning ahead to deal with unlikely or unexpected disasters and both heavily emphasize the role of communication. While these concepts are similar in many ways, it’s important to note their areas of distinction.

Having already addressed what disaster recovery is, consider this definition of business continuity. A business continuity plan provides an outline for how a business may continue its normal operations in light of interruptions. Business continuity is generally regarded to be more comprehensive than disaster recovery, since it accounts for business data, personnel and other assets.

By contrast, it could be said that a disaster recovery plan is more focused and provides greater detail not just about how a company can maintain operations, but how it can control the effects of a catastrophic event. Ultimately, disaster recovery and business continuity can be combined to form a truly comprehensive plan.

Why Does a Company Need a Disaster Recovery Plan?

For some business owners and leaders, all of this might raise a simple question: Why do you need a disaster recovery plan? There are many reasons why it makes sense for companies to be proactive in considering possible catastrophes and develop formal plans for minimizing the effects of those catastrophes.

Minimize Data Loss

One of the primary reasons companies should prioritize disaster recovery is to help prevent the permanent loss of important data. Data loss can occur for several reasons. For example, hackers can infiltrate secure systems through phishing schemes. All it takes is for one company employee to open a suspect email attachment or an unverified link. But even physical damage to company property, such as from a flood or a severe storm, may lead to data loss if important files aren’t properly backed up or stored in the cloud.

The fallout from data loss may be extreme. Companies may lose their important financial records, or worse, they could inadvertently expose customer credit card information and other confidential data. This can lead to a loss of public trust, significant litigation fees and more. IBM reports the average cost of data loss for an organization can be as high as $3.86 million.

Maintain Normal Operations

Outside of data loss, disaster recovery matters because a cataclysmic event may prohibit a company’s ability to maintain normal efficiency. Consider some of these examples.

  • Flooding shuts down the road leading to a retail store, meaning days or even weeks when customers can’t come to shop.
  • Major storms result in widespread power outages, meaning a company can’t carry out some of its normal day-to-day office functions.
  • Part of a building collapses due to fire or earthquake and teams aren’t allowed to work on-site until the necessary repairs are made.
  • Data loss leads to a prolonged corporate downtime. A study by cybersecurity expert CoveWare notes one ransomware attack may lead to more than 16 days of lost productivity.

Any of these events can result in lost productivity. Disaster recovery seeks to keep these losses as modest as possible.

Protect Business Reputation

The loss of customer information, particularly financial information, can result in more than just lawsuits. It may also trigger a public relations disaster, causing customers to lose confidence in a business’ ability to keep their data safe and secure.

Any interruption to normal service may frustrate customers, who could potentially seek alternatives. If businesses can’t offer “business as usual,” their customers may look for a competitor who can. And there is no guarantee these lost customers will come back.

In short, disaster recovery is an important way for companies to minimize loss of consumer confidence and reputational erosion.

Components of a Disaster Recovery Plan

Building a comprehensive disaster recovery plan is a process that requires careful attention to all aspects of a business’s core operations. Consider just a few of the steps involved in the development of a disaster recovery plan.

Risk Management

Risk management is an essential step toward creating a robust disaster recovery plan. It may be defined as the process of identifying, assessing and controlling any threats to a company’s normal productivity and bottom line.

To catalog these vulnerabilities, disaster recovery specialists may consider any risks associated with cyberattacks and natural disasters, as well as peripheral effects such as legal liability. The risk management process includes a careful inventory of potential threats, as well as strategies and protocols to either eliminate those threats or minimize their likelihood and severity.

Identifying Crucial Business Processes

Another important aspect of disaster recovery planning is identifying the processes for the business to function as normal. Taking stock of all business functions may require the insight of employees from each department who can provide a thorough assessment of what they do to bring value to the company each day.

Some business processes may be truly essential. These include processes such as creating products or delivering services, providing customer service or ensuring workplace safety. These processes should be considered top-priority, and disaster planning should revolve around ensuring they can continue even during a disaster.

Other processes may be less essential. For example, marketing or bookkeeping, while important, may be suspended for a short time with minimal loss to overall productivity. These processes may be considered lower priority in a disaster recovery plan.

Outlining Key Action Items

Developing a disaster recovery plan should ultimately spur action. That is, the plan should direct some steps to help avert disaster or ensure the team is ready to address disaster as it happens. Some examples include the following.

  • Ensuring the right cloud computing and data backup protocols are carried out
  • Providing employees with policies on how to minimize the risk of data theft
  • Coordinating disaster preparedness drills and simulations to show employees what to do in the event of a sudden natural disaster
  • Sourcing solutions for backup and short-term power generation and other key utilities
  • Outlining crisis management and public relations plans in the event of data loss

Coordinating with Vendors

To ensure disaster preparedness, it’s important to proactively coordinate with third-party vendors. For example, businesses may need the assistance of an IT or cybersecurity firm to make sure their data storage strategies are safe and that any new vulnerabilities that arise are quickly detected and patched. Businesses that rely on specific operational software solutions may want to work with their vendors to make sure those programs offer adequate cybersecurity protections as well.

Testing and Communication

It’s not enough just to draft a disaster recovery plan. Businesses also need to ensure the plan is tested and revised as needed. A formal review process, where the disaster recovery plan is evaluated on an annual basis, can also be helpful. Finally, it’s important to clearly communicate the plan to employees and provide any training for employees to successfully execute the plan.

Finding Disaster Recovery Solutions

As disaster recovery has evolved past the point of simply copying paper documents, several high-tech disaster recovery solutions have emerged. Indeed, disaster recovery specialists employ a range of software tools and resources to help safeguard companies from potential catastrophe.

Examples of Disaster Recovery Solutions

There are a number of specific tools that disaster recovery specialists may implement. Here are a few common examples.

  • Tools that enable preventative cybersecurity measures; antivirus software, two-step authentication processes and encryption programs are all examples
  • Detection measures, including programs that alert the IT team and other stakeholders to potential breaches or vulnerabilities
  • Cloud storage and secure data backup tools, enabling the rapid retrieval of any lost files or data
  • Secure workplace communication and collaboration tools, enabling employees to do their work remotely if necessary

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)

Another form of disaster recovery solution for business owners to consider is Disaster Recovery as a Services, or DRaaS. A DRaaS vendor will provide companies with the framework to ensure consistent disaster preparedness. Some core components of DRaaS include those listed below.

  • Methods to automatically back up critical data and business systems
  • Ways to quickly recover from a disruption, with minimal need for user input
  • Fast and flexible recovery options, enabling companies to quickly get back to regular operations
  • Simple, all-inclusive billing options

Making an Impact as a Disaster Recovery Specialist

Those who are drawn to the idea of disaster recovery — and wish to make a difference by helping businesses prepare for the worst — may want to learn more about careers as a disaster recovery specialist.

What Does a Disaster Recovery Specialist Do?

To understand what a disaster recovery specialist does, consider a basic overview of the role and its core duties.

The basic function of a disaster recovery specialist is to evaluate a company’s risks and liabilities, design a disaster recovery plan, implement that plan and provide any necessary training to business leaders and employees. A disaster recovery specialist may also be involved with vetting the plan and making any needed changes.

Disaster recovery specialists may work in an IT department, but they typically collaborate across all divisions and teams, helping coordinate and test disaster recovery plans as they pertain to different applications or personnel.

A number of skills are essential to success in this role.

  • Analytical skills: Disaster recovery specialists must be prepared to investigate all aspects of a business’ typical operations and assess the needs, vulnerabilities and threats that are present.
  • Communication skills: Disaster recovery specialists also need to clearly communicate the details of their plan to business leaders and employees.
  • Strategy: The role of the disaster recovery specialist involves the assessment of long-term problems and consideration of overarching business objectives. Strategic thinking is a must.
  • Resilience: Developing an effective disaster recovery plan may involve some testing and refinement, and sometimes even a little trial and error. Resilience is crucial.
  • Leadership skills: Ultimately, for disaster recovery specialists to be successful, they must earn the trust and confidence of team members who work under them. Leadership skills are invaluable in this field.

Disaster Recovery Specialist Salary

According to data from the compensation website PayScale, the median annual disaster recovery specialist salary is $80,000. Several factors can influence the expected salary range, including experience level. Those with more years of disaster recovery work will generally command higher salaries. Education level and job location may also affect the total salary.

Prepare for a Career in Disaster Recovery

Data loss, natural disaster, power outage and other disruptions can happen to any company. While these risks cannot be totally negated, there is much that business leaders can do to prepare. That’s what the field of disaster recovery is all about.

Those who are interested in disaster recovery careers can start honing their skills and core competencies through a formal education. An excellent choice is the Eastern Kentucky University Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management program and its Emergency Management and Disaster Resilience concentration. The program is specifically designed to provide exposure to the core functions and knowledge for a successful career in disaster recovery.

Recommended Readings

5 Common Environmental Hazards in the Workplace

5 Threats to National Security and How Government Protects its Citizens

How to Become a Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrator


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CoveWare, “Ransomware Costs Double in Q4 as Ryuk, Sodinokibi Proliferate”

Forbes, “16 Expert Strategies for Creating An Effective IT Disaster Plan”

Houston Chronicle, “Disaster Recovery Plan vs. Business Continuity Plan”

IBM, Cost of Data Breach Study

IBM, Disaster Recovery Services

IBM, “What Is a Disaster Recovery (DR) Plan?”

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PayScale, Average Disaster Recovery Specialist Salary

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