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.