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More Need for Disaster Recovery Specialists

Disaster recovery specialist help companies and government agencies develop plans to prevent and recover from various kinds of catastrophes. And they're in demand.

Disasters can be natural, human or technical. Computer viruses would be considered human and technical. Tornadoes and floods are natural disasters.

Disaster recovery specialists go by many names. Some are emergency management consultants. They might focus mostly on prevention and planning. Others call themselves business continuity consultants, which may or may not include the IT side of things -- recovering an organization's computer data after a disaster.

A large number of disaster recovery specialists work for banks. Many work as independent consultants or for larger consulting firms. Still others are employed at corporations and at various levels of government.

Kathleen Gleaves is an emergency management and business continuity consultant. She develops plans and conducts emergency drills and exercises to deal with security issues and various natural and man-made disasters.

Gleaves says "emergency planning" and "disaster recovery" used to mean the same thing.

"Over the last five or eight years, the term 'disaster recovery' got capital letters and became a noun and sort of moved into the IT realm," she says. "So when someone calls me for disaster recovery, I need to make sure they're talking about true emergency preparedness rather than IT recovery, because that isn't what I do."

Larger emergency preparedness firms have IT specialists working for them, so they can cover all aspects of emergency planning and disaster recovery. Brian Miller is a partner at such a firm.

"We address two major customer issues. [The first] would be a lack of business continuity knowledge on the part of people within the organizations that contact us. So employees not having adequate knowledge to deal with the development of business continuity plans, the ongoing maintenance of those plans, and the testing and validation of the plans," says Miller.

"And then the other part we get is lack of 'bandwidth,'" he says. "So the client organization says, 'We just need someone to help us with this, someone to take a load off of our plate because we just don't have enough people.'"

Christopher Mascelli is a construction consultant with a disaster recovery firm. He says there seems to be strong demand for disaster recovery specialists. Demand goes up and down, however.

"It's kind of a funny thing, because there's a demand for it when there's a disaster, obviously," says Mascelli. "But I think it's a tough gig for people to stick with it and do it full time, just because of the randomness of it."

As a result, Mascelli says it's uncommon to see people who have been full time in the disaster recovery field for 10 or more years.

"You'll see a lot of people, especially when you're looking on LinkedIn [at] their profiles, they'll have dabbled in it but they didn't stay with it for years and years because of that randomness, because it's hard to support a family," says Mascelli. "It's hard to support yourself doing that."

At the same time, there are people who have been in the field for decades. Emergency planning and preparation can be a more reliable source of work than simply helping organizations recover after a disaster.

Mascelli says there's a growing awareness in governments and companies of the need for disaster management planning. Also, many jurisdictions have enacted legislation in recent years requiring companies and government entities to have disaster management plans.

"I think they see the wisdom in it, that you have to have a disaster management plan in place," says Mascelli.

"Otherwise, how do you respond? If you have nothing, if you haven't thought it out beforehand, then how do you respond when it happens? Especially when you're responsible for an entire geographical area -- obviously that's a huge responsibility."

Many companies require that their suppliers have a business continuity plan. A printing company, for example, might refuse to order paper or ink from companies that do not have a business continuity plan in place.

"You have to make sure that the people who are supplying you have a good continuity plan to keep those parts and pieces and supplies coming to you," says Gleaves. "If they don't, then part of your business continuity plan is to start looking for secondary vendors to make sure that if your vendor can't guarantee the supply, that you have somewhere else to go."

Nowadays, formal education is more important when it comes to entering the emergency preparedness and disaster recovery field.

"What we recommend to young folks ... is to try and get as much exposure as they can, through either internships or getting college education. And if they're really into it and they can afford it, get a university education with a master's in the subject matter," says Miller.

A number of colleges and universities in North America have bachelor's and master's programs in emergency management. You can also receive training from the Disaster Recovery Institute or through various conferences and seminars. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) also offers a lot of online courses.

Gleaves says this is a rewarding career. She likes knowing that she leaves a company or agency better prepared to survive a disaster.

"One of my clients is very rural, way out in the farmland, and it's a very small town, but this company is the main employer in this town," she says. "If this company [goes] down, unemployment shoots through the roof in this tiny community. So it feels good to me to know I'm leaving them with a good solid plan that isn't just about their company, but it's also about supporting that entire town."


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