The fear of a disaster in your data center is what nightmares are made of for technology teams. Are the systems backed-up properly? Will we lose data? How much downtime will we incur? Does the team know what to do?

As CIO’s across the federal government worry about these questions, they all know that a strong disaster recovery (DR) plan is crucial to mitigate risk of data loss, achieve security in their environment, and minimize downtime in the event of a disaster. Many agencies go to great lengths to define all of the steps needed to restore IT operations in case of a disaster. Processes and procedures are outlined. Hardware resources, human skills, and all other necessary items are identified and documented. The DR plan is communicated to staff. Everything is in place, and they consider their DR plan complete.

In today’s fast paced technology environment, system updates occur regularly, staff changes frequently, agencies are adding cloud computing to their technology mix, and new technology is added to the data center. Creating the plan is only the first step. Environments aren’t static, and a good DR plan needs to keep pace. Here are four things technology teams need to do to be fully prepared for a data center disaster.

Perform System Updates on your Back-Up Systems
A common glitch in disaster recovery planning is out-of-date software. A disaster is the worst possible time to worry about applying accumulated patches. The same goes for operating systems and hardware maintenance. Maintaining your disaster recovery infrastructure is just as important as maintaining your production environment. Regularly check your software, systems, and hardware, and apply updates and patches before disaster strikes.

Update Your Plan Every Time Your Infrastructure Changes
Technology is constantly evolving, which typically means so is your infrastructure. Good disaster recovery plans test the many components of your infrastructure during its development. The DR plan starts to falter though when new components are added, but not to your DR plan. Any significant change to your environment – with both hardware and software – requires the DR plan to be updated and tested. Otherwise, if there is a disaster, those new components aren’t accounted for, which becomes a significant problem when trying to restore your environment.

Don’t Forget Your People
The most important element in a disaster recovery is your team. DR plans are generally well-communicated when they are first developed. Within a year though, there is likely to be some turn-over on your team. Make sure that you still have all of the skillsets required to execute the plan. Educate new hires, and be sure to keep contact information in your plan current. The best plan is useless if someone is on vacation with no assigned back-up, or they are no longer with the organization.

Practice Makes Perfect
According to a recent survey, 23 percent of organizations never test their disaster recovery plan. A thorough test or simulated disaster is a good way to identify any problems or issues, from faulty procedures and lack of documentation to incorrect configurations and personnel issues. A realistically designed and fully implemented DR test is the single most reliable way to discover flaws or gaps in your recovery strategy. Regular testing is the only way to avoid unwanted surprises.

While the fear of a disaster will never go away entirely, ensuring that your DR plan is continuously updated and that these key areas are addressed will help you be fully prepared to handle a disaster in your data center.