Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery, and a Good Night’s Sleep

by Translation Guy on November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy’s left hook has put NYC down for the count. Like all our mid-Atlantic neighbors, we are on the mat.

1-800-Translate’s headquarters at 865 United Nations Plaza is built right over what used to be Turtle Bay, just a few meters from the East River and our other location on the West Side is in splashing distance of the Hudson, at least when the waters rise. So we were in the thick of it, along with millions of our mid-Atlantic neighbors.

A few weeks ago I took some clients on a tour of Norm Bloom & Sons. Norm owns the largest oyster farm in Connecticut, and I was deeply impressed by his operation, with fleets of oyster boats churning back and forth among wharfs and sheds piled high with oysters and the shells used to cultivate his beds on 12,000 acres of Long Island Sound.

As we stood on the deck of one of his boats, shucking and slurping oysters dripping fresh from the sea, it became clear from our conversation that Norm’s chief business concern was not the number of boats or bushels of oysters sold. Those were just data points in his master plan. Like all sailors and farmers, he is a horizon-watcher, and his entire approach is designed to ensure the firm survives the next storm, which must surely come.

Now this was before Sandy was even a glint in a meteorologist’s eye. For Norm even two inches of rain leaves his boats docked for fear of runoff contamination, and a serious storm can reduce harvests for years, as carefully groomed oyster beds are destroyed by silt and sand in a single raging tide. All the impressive externals of Norm’s operation are just the tip of the business continuity iceberg, his primary concern.

A few weeks ago, Joe Thomas, my cattleman friend from Wyoming’s Pitchfork Ranch, stopped by for a visit, and told me about the hellish summer of drought and grasshoppers he had just endured. With hay at $1600 a ton, Joe was grieved at the cattle he would have to cull once he got back to the ranch, not so much for the annual loss, painful as it would be, but for what a cull would do to the genetics of his herd, which is the key to his operational success. Business continuity.

Those of us in the translation business are familiar with notions of business continuity and disaster recovery. It’s often a requirement in contracts we are eager to sign. But what use a slip of paper when the rubber hits the road? I know that many of my competitors in the region are now struggling mightily to get up and running. Not me.

As a provider of on-demand language services, we can’t go down for even one minute before the phone will start ringing from clients in search of their telephone interpreter. So I’ve had to take that squinty-eyed farmer’s view since I got into this business, necessity being the mother of successful continuity planning.

So despite the fires and the floods and Con-Ed transformers exploding like strings of firecrackers last Monday, we haven’t missed a beat. We had ditched backup for redundancy years ago. Everything is up in the cloud, or on multiple servers in secure locations (well above the high watermark, I insist). And if the cloud goes down (because it does, you know) then we run the same set of data from our servers in the home office, automatically.

The idea is to anchor the business boat with a chain that can lose a link without breaking. Team member who can make it to work, do. Those who can remote from home, do. And those completely off-line are covered by those far from the danger zone. And I get a good night’s sleep.

We had to do it this way for our ISO quality assurance program and for the contractual obligations to our clients, but it’s also in perfect alignment with the anxiety and paranoia that drives me in business.

So as the storm approached, I hefted sandbags and furniture to help my low-water friends prepare. I didn’t lift a finger at work. The best business continuity plan is one where the business just continues. We drill. Everyone was ready. The systems were ready.

So on Monday night, when Manhattan started to slip beneath the waves, I did exactly nothing, except chase the rats off the roof, a boarding party clambering up telephone line hawsers to escape the sinking island below.

Were we just lucky? Probably, but I’m not complaining, I’ll take it where I can get it. This includes translation business lessons from oystermen and cattlemen and all the other horizon-watchers.

For all fellow Sandy sufferers, best wishes for a rapid recovery and minimal loses. No word yet from Norm.


  1. It’s good to know all is fine with you and your company, Ken. That was quite risky, what you and your daughter did. I wouldn’t have done it myself.

    • Ken says:

      Looks pretty wild, doesn’t it? But pictures can be deceiving. Had you been with us you might have shared my confidence in our safety. Thanks for your kind and cautionary words, Roman.

  2. Jenks says:

    Bad analogy, TranslationGuy. Do the math. Wyoming + oysters = Rocky Mountain oysters. That’s the opposite of business continuity if you are steering to extend your brand. Mooo!

  3. Jan Rhees says:

    How wonderful that you and your business held strong through the high water, best of luck in the recovery, it’s going to be a messy situation for a while.

  4. That is a great picture, I certainly wouldn’t have gone out there to take it.

  5. I’ve recently been moving most of my business towards a model that pretty much reflects yours, multiple redundancy, cloud servers, etc. I just hope that I never have to go through something like Sandy to prove I made the right decision.

  6. Steve says:

    I’m still in shock that a hurrcane hit NYC, but it seems that it could have been so much worse is what I’m tending to hear from people, with intrepid New Yorkers seemingly having prepared quite well and hopefully the recovery goes as smoothly as possible.

  7. Great article, great story, and best wishes in the recovery.

  8. Theo Zelnik says:

    Now, there is a Man. Blogging in the middle of a hurricane, running a business and getting out there to take pictures.

    • Ken says:

      It’s called ADHD.

  9. June Austin says:

    Best wishes to you, your family and friends; as well as all the victims of this tragedy.

    • Ken says:

      We were so much luckier than the thousands who have lost everything.

  10. Looks like you made out of this looking pretty flash, good on ya mate.

  11. Janah Simkov says:

    This article really made me think about my business and how it would survive or function in the midst of a disaster, and I realized I’d be left with almost nothing. So, thank you, I’ve got some work to do and never would have thought of it without you pointing it out.

    • Ken says:

      You owe me big time, Janah!

  12. I really can’t believe that something like that happened to New York, it seems like something out of a disaster movie. Somehow I ended up on vacation, and I have no idea how my apartment fared in the storm, luckily I wasenough floors up that I’ve escaped unscathed.

  13. Martha says:

    My prayers are with you and all the New York and New Jersey residents in this difficult time.

  14. Penha says:

    You have two locations in NY? Impressive, even more impressive is that both survived. Hopefully that becomes a common trend in the aftermath.

  15. Jaden Tarle says:

    I think that a lot of things get forgotten in an event like Sandy, and small businesses are one of the things that get destroyed that no one ever really gives much thought to. I hope your friend Norm does okay.

  16. Neely Weir says:

    Thoughts and prayers are with you and all the victims of Sandy, hoping for a speedy recovery.

  17. Melinda Loo says:

    Good for you helping your neighbors out, world could use more of that.

  18. Tom Lackman says:

    I hope your clients come out the otherside of this, and glad to know everything went as well as possible during what was a crazy few days.

  19. Krista says:

    I wouldn’t pose for that photo, that water must have been freezing.

  20. My best to you and your family, friends; as well as Norm and all your clients.

  21. Good know nothing bad happened to you and yours, or to your business. Best of luck going forward.

  22. If the cloud ever failed, I think I might have a panic attack, we don’t have onsite servers big enough to hold all our data.

  23. Carl Rizzuto says:

    Great article, useful business tips, and great tales of adventure and bravery.

  24. Brian Olenik says:

    Great to hear you made it out without anything bad happening, to your family or your business, economy is bad enough without having to rebuild from the ground up.

  25. Lenni Falker says:

    Smart man, got the plan setup so when the waters come he doesn’t have to worry about a thing ever have to go through something like Sandy.

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