Spiked Articles

Best Practices

Recovering From the Taliban Attack on CornerBarPR

By Richard B. Barger, ABC, APR

Originally Posted

Well, I have to admit, this Taliban attack was particularly inventive. Either the Taliban or Mother Nature decided to turn the Kansas City area into icy Kryptonite Jan. 30, when the metroplex declared a state of emergency after 385,000 residences and countless businesses lost power. About 30 seconds after CornerBarPR had sent a blast email announcement to a good-sized group of our friends and associates and prospects and suspects, the Satanic ice storm shut down many of the nodes and trunk lines and ISPs in Kansas City. How the hell did Al-Qaeda do that, anyway? Okay, we’re not really that dumb; we can read a weather map. The failure actually trailed our promotion by about five hours, but, when you’re hustling to start a new business on a successful note, it might as well have been 30 seconds. Though thrown off balance by the ice storm, we at CornerBarPRSM were annoyed but OK when we lost our lights, when we lost our phones, when we lost our email and fax capabilities. But when our Web site feed went dead, we went ballistic. Were the redundancy guarantees our Web hosting provider promised us hogwash? We are, after all, a totally on-line enterprise, sort of like Amazon.com or e-Bay, except that we’re a bit smaller. But being off line, being "down," hurts CornerBarPR and our patrons 100 percent, just as it would larger e-enterprises. My Passionate Partner Was Hot! My partner -- and you haven’t seen or felt passion until you’ve been close to Brenda and seen her as pissed off as she was when our ISP's servers went down –- was at the office, and her intensity was as great as Jennifer Capriati‘s during her incredible comeback at the Australian Open the same week. Remember Holly Hunter’s frenetic scene in Broadcast News, where the network executive said, "I had no idea she was SO good!"? Well, Brenda's performance was better! And hers, I guarandamntee you, wasn’t acting. The Engineers Will Tell You Blue Smoke Is Not a Good Thing Our normally very reliable back-end provider saw all their rather comprehensive crisis and contingency planning go up in smoke when the local power company, which shall remain nameless (Kansas City Power & Light), thought a downed main power line, shooting blue sparks and occasional flame right beside the ISP's electrical generator, too unimportant to bother themselves with. The slow utility response time to this dangerous situation overwhelmed an otherwise solid, redundant plan. Here is what we did and what we urge you to do as well. First, before the storm, we had selected an ISP partially on the strength of their rather comprehensive contingency planning. We learned of the thought Skyway Networks had given to various data center redundancies and solutions to potentially disruptive incidents -- plans and backup plans about power outages, bandwidth outages, civil unrest, and on and on. Banks of UPS (uninterruptible power supply) batteries, a backup electrical generator … these gave us confidence. Repetitious, Repetitive, Redundant, Recurring Re-thinking Similar back-end planning and redundancy is an absolute must when establishing your own business enterprise. But the unthinkable happened. So, what next? Ideally, you get switched over to the provider’s remote location. Some Internet hosts have backup servers that automatically mirror the primary site, and that are ready to take over at the flip of a switch. However, many don’t, so you have to check. Ask questions, many questions. What if …? What if …? Have you ever …? How did you handle it? If your provider doesn’t have a remote location, find out if they offer a co-hosting arrangement with another ISP. This likely will be more expensive, but if your Internet presence is mission-critical, the redundancy will be well worth the recurring monthly costs if it saves your butt at a crucial time for your business. But what else? Well, examine everything, question everything: Systems, providers, plans, procedures, virus protection, firewalls, hardware, software. Do you and your suppliers test regularly? What were the most recent results? If you don’t trust your suppliers, you shouldn’t be working with them. But take a tip from the diplomats who negotiate international treaties: Trust, but verify. Planning for Sixth Sigma Even with best practices, it’s a nearly impossible task to have plans for every possible contingency. You do your best, you ask the right questions, you plan for the most likely occurrences and for those that, while less likely, could be devastating to your short-term survival. But you can’t expend your resources on preparations for events resulting from a combination of circumstances whose likelihood of occurring approaches sixth sigma. In our case, an incredibly unlikely confluence of factors overwhelmed an otherwise solid, redundant plan. Of course, we directly contacted our subscribers and many of our friends, to let them know we were back open for business and pourin’ drinks. And we have had … uh, detailed … conversations with our Web host, all the while shaking our fists at the Taliban, the power company, and the weather guy on TV. The utility company will justifiably scream, "Act of God! Act of God!" or, perhaps, Al-Qaeda. And, while they may legally be right and protective of some faceless company's insurable interest, customer's lives are at stake when there is an arcing, sparking line on the ground near a gas-powered generator. They heavily promote their sensitivity and priority given to downed power lines -- live downed power lines -- in every way their communicators can think of. Maybe a monopoly can get away with promotion that is incongruent with their performance; you and I certainly couldn’t. This is an opportunity to re-think either their PR or their response strategy, for they’re giving reputable practitioners a bad name. From Here to Eternity Being off the air for 50 hours or 50 minutes is an eternity when your enterprise is totally on line. Our server was down, and, of course, many local patrons were in the same boat. However, others either didn’t have to go to work or were there with little to do, so they had plenty of time to follow up on our emails and other local promotions, to see what this new CornerBarPR alternative on-line meeting place was all about. Patrons and visitors from afar might possibly have heard about the record ice-storm disaster in KayCee, or they might not. Or they might have thought we actually were running this enterprise from an unreliable old 486 I have stuck in a closet in my basement. Not. Is the Coast Clear? Who Gives a Rip! The point is, they shouldn’t have to know -– or care -– what the weather is like in Kansas City, or anything else about how well-planned our business was. The stuff you can plan for, you plan for. The stuff you didn’t plan for, you learn from. My late good friend, Floyd Walker, ABC, once gave a fine presentation, "Quit yelling at the dark." In a nutshell, that captures the essence of both his remarks and our situation. Shit happens. But you don’t have to like it. We don’t, and right now we’re adjusting what we already thought was a pretty good set of plans; so is our Web host. Take a lesson from us, and examine your own situation. But remember, no one –- not CornerBarPR, not Skyway Networks, and, unless you’ve just won the lottery, not you -– can afford to plan for every conceivable possibility. I mean, who would have ever thought of Taliban terrorists?

Join The Discussion

We will never post your email address publicly; it's used solely as part of our verification process to keep the spammers under control. After submitting your comment or question, you'll receive an email confirmation message with a link back to CornerBarPR.com® that you'll need to click before your post appears for others to see. By submitting this post you agree to the CornerBarPR.com Terms Of Service.