We’ve all heard the saying that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. But when it comes to your school’s data, hardware, and systems, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is, an unplanned outage or disaster causing damage to or loss of hardware or data can easily cost a school tens of thousands of dollars. Which is not the kind of predicament you want to be in.
Think of it this way: schools invest significant time and money into creating evacuation plans for students, faculty, and staff in case of an emergency, so the same precautions should be taken when it comes to your information technology. The most reliable way of guaranteeing a smooth, quick, and successful restoration of hardware and data after a disaster occurs is to create a comprehensive Data Recovery Plan. Sounds like a big task, right? Well, it is in a way. But we’re here to break it down for you step by step to ensure that you’re fully prepared for a disaster when (not if) it happens.
Whether your school has 500 students or 5,000 students, there are a lot of moving parts and pieces when it comes to your systems, hardware, and data transfers. But if you follow these 8 steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating a fail-proof disaster recovery plan for your school.
1. Assemble a Team
Your first action item is to collect a group of people to create a disaster recovery team. A common error schools make is to appoint a single person to determine the best course of action for disaster recovery. The issue with this method is that relying on one person is always risky. When disaster strikes (whether it be an unplanned power outage that causes data loss, a natural disaster that damages or destroys hardware, or a security breach that exposes confidential student data), a one-person team can easily fail if that one person happens to fall ill or be otherwise unavailable.
Beyond the risks of availability associated with appointing one person to manage disaster recovery, it’s a rare occurrence that a single person will know enough about the ins and outs of every facet of your school’s systems to effectively restore things once a disaster has taken place. The strongest disaster recovery teams will include the following personnel (or similar titles): a Director of Information Technology, a Human Resources Director, a Director of Finance and Budget, a Director of Strategic Communications, and the school’s Principal or Vice Principal.
Assembling a strong, informed team is perhaps the most critical step on this list. Even the most comprehensive Data Recovery Plan is only as strong as the team executing the plan. So make sure yours is reliable, prepared, and informed of their roles in the data recovery and restoration process.
2. Define the Lingo
Early in your Data Recovery Plan, take the time to list and define any technical terms that may not be well-known by all members of your data recovery team. Remember, every facet of your school has its own processes, systems, software, and hardware. Different members of your team will be more or less familiar with certain terms than others. So plan accordingly and create a glossary of terms, software names, and other related lingo that are necessary to the data recovery and restoration process. Doing so will save critical time when a disaster happens and will ensure that your plan runs according to, well, the plan.
3. Consider Communications
Just like with technology-related lingo, members of your team will be more familiar with important contacts in your school than others. So be sure your Data Recovery Plan includes a list of pertinent names, titles, and contact information for anyone who might need to be reached during the data recovery process. This list will and should include more people than just those who make up your data recovery team. Anyone who needs to remain informed during this process should be on the list, as should anyone who may be a good resource for information or help during the process.
Ensuring smooth internal communication is critical, but external communication is just as important. Very few disasters or unplanned outages are kept secret. So be sure your Data Recovery Plan includes a strategy for communicating pertinent details and regular updates with the public, including and especially parents, students, and media personnel.
4. Identify Potential Risks
The risks a school faces in regards to data loss or hardware failure are varied and extensive. It’s important to know what potential risks you’re up against so that you can create preventative and reactionary measures for each one. Start by creating a list of potential risks, and then develop a strategy for dealing with each risk. Common disasters most schools are at risk of facing are hardware failure, unplanned power outages, natural disasters, hacking or other computer crimes, and terrorist attacks or sabotages. Depending on where your school is located, you may be more prone to certain risks than others. But the key to a comprehensive Data Recovery Plan is being thorough in outlining all potential risks so that you can create action items for recovery and restoration for any scenario.
5. Create Recovery Processes for Each Risk
Our first four steps have really been focused on laying the groundwork. We’ve walked you through the preliminary measures necessary to create a strong foundation on which to build your Disaster Recovery Plan. Now, we move on to the substance of your plan. Creating recovery and restoration processes for each and every potential disaster scenario is a time-consuming task. We get it. But doing so is the only way to guarantee that your systems are back up and running as quickly as possible after a disaster. Take each risk one by one and create a list of preventative measures that help safeguard your school against data loss, security breaches, and hardware malfunction. Then create step-by-step instructions for recovery and restoration in the case that a certain disaster has taken place. Be overly thorough and redundantly clear in this section of your plan. Your disaster recovery team will be thankful you did when the time comes to implement your plan.
6. Prioritize Restoration Steps
A thorough Disaster Recovery Plan is no short document. When it comes to information technology systems in schools, there’s a lot to consider from day to day, and the same is true in the recovery and restoration process. Save time and cut down on confusion by prioritizing the steps for restoration in your plan. This way, your data recovery team knows where to begin the restoration process and how to move from action item to action item in the most efficient way.
7. Review & Test Your Plan
Creating a first draft of your Disaster Recovery Plan is just where the fun begins. Once you’ve outlined all the potential risks and determined the best preventative and reactionary measures for both, go over everything with your team. Ask for feedback, insight into areas that might have been overlooked, and as much additional input as you can gather. Then, test your plan. To go back to our evacuation plan analogy from earlier, fire drills and tornado drills exist for a reason. They help communicate your plan to all participants, and they identify holes in your plan you might have otherwise missed. Testing and revising your plan is a critical step in ensuring the plan actually works.
8. Keep the Plan Up-to-Date
Once you’ve got a working plan that’s reliable and thorough, you’re all set. For now at least. As time passes, the information technology systems and processes in your school are sure to change. When these changes take place, your Data Recovery Plan needs to be modified as well. Whether your school integrates new software, hardware, or both from year to year, your technology will not remain the same. What works in a Disaster Recovery Plan now may not work in the future. So update and revise your plan regularly to ensure effectiveness.
Now that we’ve walked you through the various steps to creating a fail-proof Disaster Recovery Plan for your school, you have everything you need to do just that. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, have questions about the process, or simply don’t have the bandwidth to create a comprehensive plan yourself, feel free to reach out to us for help. We’ve worked in education information technology for decades now and are exceedingly familiar with the hardware, software, and systems schools use to manage their data. We’d be more than happy to walk with you through this process.