As Hurricane Dorian batters the Carolinas, it has already left a wake of devastation in its path, particularly in The Bahamas, whose Prime Minister, Hubert Minnis, described the devastation the islands have suffered as "unprecedented and extensive".
Florida also started to brace itself last week as the storm headed towards the Sunshine State's coastline. Ultimately, Florida didn't suffer anywhere near as much damage as was initially anticipated, but MSPs in the state were still forced to tackle preparations head on and make sure customers didn't take the wait-and-see approach of previous storms.
While no one wants to fall victim to the devastation of a hurricane, Michael Goldstein, president and CEO at Fort Lauderdale, FL MSP LAN Infotech, notes that Dorian was "a great experience to go through" in terms of implementing preparedness for the storm, because it was likely the first time customers really took heed of what their MSPs were saying about being prepared for such an event and then acting upon it.
"Everybody somewhat tested their plans and I think that clients were very reactive asking ‘When should we do this? How should we do this?'. The communications were definitely something that we stayed up on, focusing heavily on backup and communication, and everyone followed through. We didn't have any clients that were resistant."
He noted that this was not the case in previous years when Floridians faced storms such as Irma in 2017 and Michael in 2018.
MSPs would often be asked by customers why they had to shut everything down, or customers would wait until the storm arrived - by which time it was too late.
But this time customers had "much better plans" than in previous years owing not only to experience, but also cyber awareness backup plans, Goldstein said.
Organizations are much more aware of the value in the data they hold and they don't want to risk losing any of it, he added.
In terms of what MSPs and customers actually found themselves doing to prepare for Dorian, this started a week before the hurricane was due to hit land. For MSPs it included preparing a sequence of emails to send out to customers to keep them up to date on the progress of the storm and what they needed to be doing in preparation.
Partners also spent time reviewing all their customer backups, as well as ensuring customers had the right policies in place.
Some of the preparations that may seem obvious but actually may not occur to a lot of customers included telling customers to "unplug everything" and to move machines away from windows, get anything electric off the floor and cover things up to keep them dry.
"These things may seem very elementary, but some people say ‘What do you mean, it shouldn't be on the floor?'. We have to explain that it's electricity, and if it does flood in your building because we've got 30 inches of rain, it's better if your gear is on your desk than the floor," Greg Zolkos, president and CEO at Tampa, FL-based MSP Atlas Professional Services, explained.
As it turned out, the main impact for Florida-based customers are scheduling changes that were put in place in the event that businesses had to shut down this week. Zolkos told CPI that clients were trying to anticipate and schedule business in anticipation of a shutdown, which ultimately didn't come. Still, this creates disruption that has to be addressed after the event.
"It was one week of the unknown, and moving around doing extra stuff could cause a few weeks' delay in another area. Certainly in our case, we were literally just taking resources and shifting them around. For clients, I know a lot of travel was canceled and rescheduled, for example."
And the cloud has played a big part in the customer response to the potential impact of Dorian. Zolkos notes that of his small number of customers who did have to shut up shop because of a lack of power to their buildings after Dorian hit, they were already operating in the cloud and so still able to conduct business.
For MSPs with customers in the Bahamas, however, it has been a very different story. Goldstein told CPI that with a small number clients in the islands' capital Nassau, the devastation from Dorian is palpable.
"Our hearts go out to the Bahamas. The devastation is so close to the door. And, on one side of it, you're happy that you've got through it fine, but you see the devastation elsewhere. We've reached out to our clients in Nassau, but we haven't heard from them. We've emailed to ask if they're now up and running, but I'm sure communications is kind of sketchy. We've offered our assistance, services and support.
"We keep sending out the emails to our clients, and though they're in Nassau, which is a little further south than where the main damage occurred, I'm sure they were impacted."
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