Disaster Recovery and the Japanese Tsunami

The art of disaster recovery is to plan for what may be the unthinkable while balancing mitigations that are both feasible and reasonable for your organization’s resources and circumstances.  On March 11, Japan was struck by a massive earth quake and tsunami that caused enormous destruction, estimated at a total loss of $310 billion.  Over the last several weeks, one of the major failures has been at the nuclear power complex in Fukushima, home to six nuclear power plants.  This disaster continues, as of the writing of this post, as at least two of the plants continue to be in a critical state because of a failure of the complex’s power and backup power systems that helped to control the temperature of the nuclear fuel rods used to generate power at the plants.

As an unfortunate consequence, many people have been exposed to more radiation than normal, food grown in the area of the plant has shown higher levels of radioactive materials than normal, radioactive isotopes in higher-than-normal concentrations have been detected in the ocean near the plants, and numerous nuclear technicians have been exposed to significant radiation, resulting in injuries and hospitalizations.  As far as disasters go, the loss of life and resources has been severe.  And like other major environmental and natural disasters, the effects of the earthquake and tsunami will be felt for years by many people.

Natural disasters like this one cannot be prevented.  We lack the technology today to effectively predict or control for these kinds of events.  And while these larger scale disasters are relatively rare, planners still need to assess the relative likelihood of such events, and develop reasonable mitigation plans to help an entity recover should such a disaster occur.  Computerized health records present an opportunity to permit recovery in that the data housed by these systems can be cost-effectively backed up and retained at other secure locations, permitting system recovery and the ability to continue operations.  In contrast to digital files, paper records are far less likely to be recovered were a tsunami or other similar natural disaster to occur and wash the records away.

Even the best recovery plan, however, will be severely tested should a major disaster be realized.  Japan was hardly unprepared for a major earthquake, and still is struggling to bring its nuclear facilities under control nearly three weeks later.  However, having a plan and testing it regularly will increase the odds of recovery.  My thoughts are with the Japanese during these difficult times.

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Maryland technology attorney and college professor.

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