TechSoup created the first version of this guide — originally titled Restoring IT Infrastructure: A Manual for Disaster Recovery — shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck the southern United States and left numerous nonprofits and public libraries scrambling for solutions. Although many organizations told us that the information and recommendations in the first guide helped them get back on the ground more quickly, many of you pointed out that the guide was only half written: where were the instructions for disaster planning? We hope that this version is the answer to that question.
Don’t think of the suggestions in this book as mere precaution against a natural or man-made disaster; think of them as tips for keeping your organization limber and ready for any new opportunity or challenge. Using our suggestions for documentation, backup, and unified communications, you can build a tech infrastructure that will be reparable after a disaster. Perhaps more importantly, though, you can use those same strategies to serve your constituents in new ways when an unexpected opportunity arises. The provisions that ease rebuilding your tech infrastructure also let you build an ad-hoc office to carry out your mission in a new place or circumstance. For this reason, we hope that this guide will not only prepare you for a crisis, but deepen your nonprofit’s impact in times of health too.
Who Should Use This Guide
Part I of this guide, Disaster Preparation, offers guidelines and strategies that would be useful for any nonprofit, NGO, or public library in the world, though some are more applicable for smaller organizations. For large organizations, we encourage you to discuss our recommendations with an IT manager or consultant to develop an appropriate plan for your organization. We’ve also supplemented this guide with links to additional information from around the Internet covering numerous perspectives.
One unfortunate irony is that for many nonprofits, disasters are the times when your constituents are most in need of your services. Part of a recovery plan, therefore, is a triage phase in which you evaluate which programs must continue to receive full staff attention and which ones you can slow or pause during the rebuilding process. This guide is intended to help you simultaneously continue key operations and rebuild your infrastructure.
Although some of our recommendations may still be applicable, this guide is not intended for NGOs whose continued efforts in a time of disaster may be putting their staff in danger. If your NGO is trying to recover during a civil war or other period of political upheaval or if your work requires your staff to stay in an area in which a disaster is taking place, you might find more appropriate information from your local Red Cross or Red Crescent.
This guide necessarily focuses on your technology infrastructure in disaster preparation and recovery. Of course, disaster preparation and recovery have other components — including financial and human resources issues — which we unfortunately can’t cover in depth.
Laws and standards about encryption and security vary a lot from country to country. Please consult materials appropriate to your country for specific security recommendations, especially if you manage health records or any other data protected by law. In the United States, health data is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). For information on making sure your database meets HIPAA standards, see the Idealware article In Search of HIPAA-Compliant Software.
In Search of HIPAA-Compliant Software
How to Use This Guide
This guide is divided into two sections, Preparing for Any Predicament (Page 10) and Disaster Recovery (Page 40). It goes without saying that for nonprofits who are recovering from a disaster, the second section will carry more immediate relevance than the first (and vice versa); regardless of your current situation, however, reading the entire guide can give you a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding disaster planning and response. If you’re improving your nonprofit’s preparedness, reading about the recovery process will inform many of your decisions. If you’re rebuilding after a disaster, this is the perfect time to think about ways in which you can make your new tech infrastructure nimbler.
If you’re focusing on disaster preparedness, we’ve provided a checklist on Page 39 to guide you through the process. The checklist summarizes most of the recommendations in the book; it’s an easy way to keep track of tasks and track your progress.
As you document the technologies and strategies you implement in the disaster preparedness section, you’ll simultaneously be creating your own instructions for a future recovery. Should a tech crisis arise in the future, your own documentation will be your primary aid in the recovery process, with this guide and other resources as supplements.
If you’re already in recovery mode, Chapter 9: Post-Disaster Operations Analysis (Page 65) is intended to help you through the triage process and development of your recovery plan. The worksheets in Chapter 9 parallel Part II of the guide so you can complete them as you work through the recovery process.
Printing This Guide
You might find it worthwhile to print the guide so that you can continue to refer to it during the disaster planning or recovery process. Please consider saving paper by duplexing (printing on both sides of the page) or using a print management tool. For more information on using paper responsibly, see TechSoup’s Reduce Your Paper Use campaign.
Additional Resources: To make the book easy to use in both electronic and printed forms, we’ve provided both URLs and clickable links for additional online resources.
Tips and Warnings: This symbol denotes information that can save you time or help you avoid a dangerous situation.
Your Stories: We surveyed over 300 NGOs around the world in research for this guide (see footnote on page 11). This symbol denotes results from the survey and follow-up interviews as well as stories from other contacts in the nonprofit sector.
Excel Charts: Chapter 9: Post-Disaster Operations Analysis includes several example charts to aid your operations analysis. The charts are available for your use in an Excel file, which you can download from our Disaster Planning and Recovery Toolkit (see below).