It’s hard not to be a bit reflective today – 9/11. The images are just as disturbing today as they were 10 years ago. I remember exactly where I was. I had just barely opened my eyes when I saw the second plane hit. The next 100 or so minutes are seared in my memory forever. My parents grew up in New York (the Bronx to be exact), and my maternal grandfather worked in the World Trade Center for the Port Authority before he retired. So I have  a spiritual connection to New York. It’s a city I do love to visit (but those hotel room costs at certain times of the year … oy!). I remember writing the initial chapters to my SQL Server 2000 High Availability book and originally I had a 9/11 reference in it. To a person, everyone reviewing it said to take it out because the reference was too soon. And I did.

I also remember driving down to NJ about a week after 9/11 for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). It was at night (probably 10 or 11 o’clock). When I passed the commuter parking lot at the top of the Garden State Parkway attached to the Montvale Rest Stop, I saw a lot of cars there. That was unusual. And I realized – a lot of those cars probably belonged to some of the victims of the World Trade Center. It was eerie, and a feeling I never want to have again. I can’t describe it. It’s funny what sticks to you years later.

Over the past 10 years we’ve seen a lot of natural destruction around the world – the tsunami from the Indian Ocean (which is sneaking up on its 10th as well), the recent earthquakes and tsunami in Japan this year, Hurricane Irene just a few weeks ago which has caused massive problems here in the Northeast, and Hurricane Katrina. Those are just examples – I know there are many more. Could your business stand a natural disaster that hits your area? Have you even taken it into count in your overall operations plans? If the answer is no to either, you may be in trouble. It’s not just natural events that will get you. The recent power outage in Southern California, Mexico, and Arizona is a great example of a man-made problem which can have a very adverse effect on your business if you don’t plan for those kinds of things.

At the end of the day, when the dust has settled, life usually tries to return to (relative) normal. Businesses reopen. Workers go back to work. Money is made. People get a paycheck. In this connected world, it’s not as simple as “opening the doors”. Everyone’s got e-mail systems, database systems, application servers, SANs, networking, communications … you get the idea. I talk about this with customers, but the reality is that everyone needs a disaster recovery (DR), or more accurately, a business continuity (BC) plan. BC is more accurate since there are more elements (such as human ones) that come into play.

I’m not saying you should ignore the technical side – far from it. Plan to your heart’s content. Do things like get your backups offsite. Test your DR plans. Make sure you know how to coordinate resources. Have a staff schedule. You get the idea. The trust is that all of those tactical – and necessary – tasks are very important stuff. It’s mainly what we focus on as technical folks. However …

What brought this more into focus for me recently was the death of my friend Mike which I’ve blogged about here. Besides the loved ones he left behind, he also left behind a law practice and a computer consulting business with active clients that still needed to be serviced. He may not have been Accenture or IBM Global Services, but his business still has to run until the family figures out how to transition the work properly and legally to others. From my perspective, it really got me thinking. It’s one thing to prepare for certain things, and I’ve talked about people being single points of failure in the past, but would happen if something happened to me? What would become of my business? How would those I entrusted in my will to my estate deal with things? Would they know where to find my contracts? Do they know my passwords? How would they see my receivables? Well, you get the picture. Those are very different concerns than just worrying about getting an application running – but they are every bit as valid. So whether you are a 1 person company or a 100,000 person company, these are the types of things that come with BC.

I’ve started to re-examine my own contingency plans. Have you? If not, get going!

10 Years – What A Difference

When all of the things happened around 9/11 or other events like the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, we saw the many pictures posted all around those areas of people looking for loved ones with contact information on the flyers or posters. Facebook and Twitter were not around. I believe listservs were used by the Red Cross to try to track the missing. I do remember rudimentary web pages. Today, there would be Facebook pages and real time tweets. My, how far we’ve come. I’ll be the first to admit I begrudgingly embrace social media in some aspects, but when it comes to things like this? It’s very, very good.

On Another Note

9/11 has obviously changed the way we all go about our lives whether directly or indirectly. I fly quite often, and it has been interesting to see the changes in airport security all over the world. I can remember flying a few months after 9/11 and that experience was WAY different than what we have today. It was certainly a sight to see armed military walking around. In those days immediately post-9/11, some of you may remember not being able to take ANYTHING with a battery out during flight. No laptops, no audio players, no phones – nothing. Laptops in bags had to go in the overhead. You were stuck with your travel companion (if you were with someone) and things like books/magazines/puzzles. At that point you could still take your own water (this is pre-Richard Reid). As much as I do like to work on planes sometimes, I’ve got to say, outside of boarding planes in Europe, it was the fastest boarding process I’ve ever experienced. I kinda miss it. In the USA, nowadays no matter what airline, it’s a bit chaotic with people cramming things in overheads to avoid checked baggage fees and thinking they are so self-important that they can ignore flight attendants when they are asked to power down their phone or smartphone. Hint: you’re not special. That e-mail or conversation can wait. You’re holding us all up.

I’ve also noticed a slight change in some folks (like my parents) when I go somewhere. I’ve criss-crossed the globe usually alone. My Mom doesn’t fly, and I know she gets anxious when I fly. I definitely appreciate the concern (nice to know people care!), but the reality is that if something happens, it’s going to happen. I can’t live my life in fear of “what if”. I certainly know my friend Mike didn’t. Sadly, I probably have a better chance of something happening to me driving or walking around a major city (not that I want anything to happen) than something happening on a plane. The numbers back me up on that. I can only control my actions – not anyone else’s.

Life is certainly fragile, but don’t put yourself in a cocoon. Live it to the best that you can. You’ll regret it otherwise.