However safe and resilient your company’s operations might be, there’s always the chance that something will occur to interrupt business operations. Hence, every company should have a disaster recovery plan that maps out how to respond to a disaster so that the company can return to normal operations as soon as possible.

That said, companies need to do more than write a plan. A business must also test its plan regularly to ensure that when disaster does strike, your recovery plan (and its close cousin, the business continuity plan) will indeed work as intended.

Your disaster recovery plans should be tested annually and whenever a fundamental change happens within your company (a merger, divestiture, restructuring, new IT implementation, and so forth).

Regular disaster recovery testing is critical because it confirms whether your recovery procedures will or won’t work. Testing uncovers gaps, reduces errors, and builds confidence that critical systems can be restored within the required Recovery Time Objectives (RTO). It also prepares team members to handle various disaster scenarios.

What Are the Most Common Disaster Recovery Scenarios?

Various disasters can threaten your company and trigger your disaster recovery plan. Some of the most common are:

Natural Disasters

Weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or blizzards can stop your operations in their tracks. Some global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can force a company to overhaul its operations. Preparing for such events can be challenging, but you must have a contingency plan and recovery process for when they occur.

Cyber Breaches

Cybersecurity issues can be catastrophic for many organizations. Ransomware, Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDOS) attacks, and other malicious intrusions into your system can cause data loss, service interruption, and chaos within your company. Your disaster recovery plan should always integrate current information on cyber threats so you can recover quickly should you become the victim of an attack.

Data Loss and Backup Failure

Your company likely has large quantities of data critical to daily business operations. Issues with your data centers can hinder operations, wreck financial performance, and potentially result in costly lawsuits. If you have your data backed up (which you should), you must still be aware that data backups can fail. Include data recovery in your disaster recovery (DR) strategy.

Network and Utility Failure

While drafting your plan, Internet service and power outages are also important; a loss of electricity or network connectivity can freeze your operations in seconds. Your plan should include backup power or other contingency options for essential utilities so your company can always access the necessary IT infrastructure and apps.

Hardware failures

Hardware issues like server failures or storage malfunctions can severely impact a company’s ability to operate. Having redundancy built into your hardware systems is crucial to minimize downtime from physical device failures. Your disaster recovery plan should consider scenarios where critical on-premises IT infrastructure fails and how you will work around these outages.

Workforce interruptions

Events like strikes, staff shortages from illness or resignations, and restrictions on movement/travel limit workforce availability. Ensure your disaster recovery plan considers alternate workflows, temporary employees, remote work options, and other flexibility to adapt if many employees cannot work on-site for a while. Building workforce adaptability is vital to keeping operations running smoothly during a disaster.

Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan Checklist

A Disaster Recovery (DR) checklist guides all the steps you need to take before, during, and after a disruptive event to minimize downtime and data loss. Here are some essential items to include:

  • Identify vital IT systems & max downtimes: Pinpoint which apps, sensitive data, and IT infrastructure you can’t afford to lose and determine the maximum outage duration you can tolerate based on business impact analysis.
  • Calculate potential revenue losses: Estimate disruption costs to guide Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs) and disaster recovery solution budget.
  • Detail damage assessment procedures: Document how to detect, evaluate rapidly, and report system failures from cyberattacks, malware, hackers, ransomware, human error, or hardware failures.
  • Define response protocols: Outline responsibilities and communication plans for declaring a disaster to get recovery procedures underway quickly.
  • List recovery processes: Catalogue detailed steps for restoring on-site and offsite systems, procuring temporary replacements, leveraging replication and backup systems, and recovery sites from service providers.
  • Schedule regular testing: Test types of disaster recovery, including backups, data protection policies, drills, and procedures, often to validate effectiveness and identify plan gaps.
  • Maintain & update the plan: Review disaster recovery checklists and procedures routinely, especially after tests/actual disruptive events catch shortcomings—update as needed for new IT systems, data centers, natural disasters, pricing changes, etc.

How Do You Test a Disaster Recovery Plan?

Test your disaster recovery plan via the following basic steps:

Assess Your Priorities

When designing your test, consider the most critical aspects of your recovery plan. What potential problems might arise? What is your Recovery Time Objective (RTO)? What must you prioritize to continue your operations and minimize further loss?

These elements are the ones that need to be protected by your disaster recovery plan. During the testing process, keep them at the front of your mind. If you are revisiting an existing plan, examine how these priorities may have changed since the plan was first created.

Choose the Test That Meets Your Needs

Numerous scenarios are available to test your disaster recovery plan, depending on what you hope to achieve and what constraints you may face.

The simplest is a plan review, where your team examines your strategy for inconsistencies or potential errors. You can also perform a walkthrough, where your team executes the steps that would be necessary during a crisis. Finally, you can also have the option of a simulated disaster, either on a tabletop or by computer software.

Keep Your Team Informed

To test your disaster recovery strategy successfully, you’ll need the cooperation of your entire staff. Your employees will have invaluable insight into what must be done during a crisis. Your staff may also be necessary to perform your test accurately, and they will need to know any responsibilities they might have in case of an emergency.

Methods & Best Practices for Disaster Recovery Testing

Regular, comprehensive Disaster Recovery (DR) testing is crucial to evaluate readiness, prevent extended outages, and minimize disruption. Follow these industry best practices when testing DR plans:

  • Perform DR testing at least twice annually and more often for highly regulated sectors
  • Confirm that automated failover and recovery processes work as intended
  • Test worst-case disaster recovery scenarios that would threaten RTO
  • Involve cross-department stakeholders such as IT, data center teams, and cloud providers
  • Document and track testing results, issues found, and corrective actions
  • Leverage tabletop exercises and disaster recovery testing templates
  • Update recovery plans whenever production systems or workloads change

How often should disaster recovery plans be tested?

The best practice is to test disaster recovery and business continuity plans at least twice per year to validate the recoverability of systems. Financial services and healthcare industries should test even more often (quarterly or monthly).

You should also test your plans after any significant change to operations: new IT implementations, office relocation, mergers, etc. Be sure to update your plans and other documentation as necessary after those tests. 

Integrate ZenGRC into Your Project Management Plans

A successful disaster recovery plan will rely on a thorough understanding of the threats faced by your organization. Risk management is an integral part of your business continuity, and it can take time to track your risks while using outdated methods like spreadsheets. To protect your company, you’ll need a modern risk management solution that keeps everyone on the same page.

ZenGRC is an integrated risk management software platform that gives you a real-time view of your company’s risk landscape. You can organize your risk assignments, automate your control procedures, and create a single source of truth for your risk and compliance programs. 

Schedule a demo today to learn how ZenGRC can become integral to your company’s disaster recovery strategy.