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Disaster Recovery Planning 101

In the event of a flood, fire, equipment failure, virus or nefarious attack, how quickly could your organization resume operations?

It is critical that all Merit member organizations craft a disaster recovery (DR) plan to mitigate risk, minimize downtime and continue operations in the event of a natural or manmade disaster. A thorough DR playbook will include the necessary policies, tools and procedures to recover critical business functions during a disruption.

The first step in building a disaster recovery plan is to ensure your organization has a comprehensive understanding of the cyber and physical threats that could impact operations. Anticipate potential disruptors and work to develop recovery plans for each.

An effective DR document will include emergency contacts for employees, insurance policies, data backup sites and more. Physical space contingency plans should be secured in the event of a natural disaster, such as a fire or flood. While your operation recovers, are your employees positioned to seamlessly resume work from their homes? Is a temporary office space plan necessary?

Data recovery and customer recordkeeping should also be addressed. What are your most critical digital assets or information that would need to be preserved in the event of a disaster? How long can your organization survive without its critical data? Consider where your information is being stored its management process. Are your backup processes complete and are they tested annually? Outline the next steps in the event of a total data loss. Tabletop exercises to familiarize employees with policies and procedures during times of crisis should also be conducted on a yearly basis.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Contingency Planning Guide can be found HERE, and outlines best practices for disaster recovery in great detail. This document suggests the following steps:



  • Develop the contingency planning policy statement
  • Conduct the business impact analysis
  • Identify preventive controls
  • Create contingency strategies
  • Develop an information system contingency plan
  • Ensure plan testing, training and exercises
  • Ensure plan maintenance



“Merit has developed a resource network for Members to tap into during a disaster recovery event. Merit members have always demonstrated a willingness to help one another in times of need, and the community assistance pact reinforces this in a more formalized manner. Having fast, direct access to helpful people and services is invaluable.”

– Josh Olson, Michigan Technological University, CIO


The Merit Community Assistance Pact (MCAP) has been developed as a technical support network among Merit Members during a disaster recovery event. This voluntary community program provides access to pre-vetted personnel and infrastructure pledged by other Merit Members and is available for no additional fee. Participating members sign a lightweight Memorandum of Understanding and are then connected to a secure community resource catalog, where they can access a list of available resources and contacts, and pledge their own in return.

“Forming the MCAP is an idea that came from our Membership, and we are thrilled that Merit can play a role in organizing these emergency resources for the community. While many of these mutual aid relationships are formed locally, this will now provide our Members with access to resources throughout the state and even nationally,” says David Dennis, Executive Director of Product Management at Merit.

Tim Chavis, CIO at Lawrence Technological University added that, “After spending most of my career mainly in healthcare, I’m always amazed at the willingness of those in the Higher Ed, and the Merit community, to help what in most industries would be considered “competitors.” Most of us already informally offer assistance when asked, but MCAP provides a framework to help identify potential resources and protect all parties in a time of true need.  When I approached my staff about potentially taking part, they were enthusiastic about using their skills to safely chip in to a “crisis co-op.

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