Will Winter Storm Nemo be a blizzard or a Nor'easter that buries New York and New England in two feet of snow? It's far too early to say -- weather forecasts and predictions are all over the map. But either way, managed services providers (MSPs) have ample time to test business continuity plans with customers across the northeast.

According to one RPM computer model, New York could see over 38 inches of snow this weekend, according to Business Insider Science. Most forecasts so far say big cities south of New England -- New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore -- will see mostly rain, with the possibility of sleet, notes International Business Times.

The real concern involves residents and businesses north of Boston. We're checking in with MSPs to see if they're making any special storm preparations. The obvious first move is to get customer data backed up and relocated off-site, perhaps using on-premises BDR (backup and disaster recovery) appliances to upload key customer data to the cloud for safekeeping.

Act Now, Rest Later

Still, there are practical steps I'd recommend based on my own recent experience with Hurricane Sandy in New York. They include:

  • Have a Safe Zone Contact: Identify a manager or key contact who is located outside of the storm's reach. Got an MSP partner in Florida or Phoenix? Make them the point contact for employee check-ins. If local power, cell and Internet services are all down within your storm zone, then your staff and your customers will likely have better luck contacting the safe zone person with business and disaster recovery updates.
  • Shared Cloud Docs Rule: In our case, we also set up a shared Google Doc where employees could type in their status if/when they managed to get an Internet connection. It was an easier approach than blasting emails to teams since our email was down for a bit.
  • Go Four Deep With Broadband Redundancy: You'll need more than your home Internet, business Internet and local Starbucks WiFi connection for peace of mind. After Hurricane Sandy, I lost my two main sources of broadband -- a home cable modem and a MiFi Verizon card. My typical third option -- WiFi at Starbucks -- wasn't an option because AT&T shut down the service for a few days. Make a list of employees and their primary home broadband providers, then route staff to the most appropriate locations based one which broadband providers are up or down.
  • Fuel Times Two: We fueled up both of our cars prior to Sandy's arrival. But the hunt for fuel after the storm became a high-stress activity. Most gas stations lacked power and generators, and therefore couldn't pump gas. Companies like Hess set up websites to show consumers which stations were open, how much fuel was on hand, and when the next expected delivery would arrive. As you check in with other staff members during a power outage or after a storm, begin to chart which fuel stations are open and serving customers.
  • No Power, No Phones: Don't forget many VoIP phone systems go dead when the power is out. "Back when I was a kid" we still had dial-tone services during blackouts and power outages. But these days it pays to have some backup power on hand the keep the dial-tone going even when your primary electricity fails.
  • Know Which Customers Require Help First: Surely, you have a list of your most profitable customers running the most mission critical applications. If forced to choose, which customers and related systems will you help to bring back online first? And which customers, if any, should move to the back of the line?

And finally -- Enjoy the snow: In the hours after Sandy, I remember feeling helpless.

  • No business phone lines.
  • No cell service.
  • No broadband.
  • No power.

No contact with the outside world other than occasional cell phone texts sneaking through the crippled system. Finally my wife told me to get a grip, accept the fact that I couldn't work, and enjoy some time with the kids.

Bottom line: Most of your customers won't want to work after a blizzard arrives. Other than truly mission critical businesses, I suspect most customers will focus on the safety of their employees and families. Everybody stay home and chill. But if you need to battle the elements and save your customers then you better have a plan ready. Sounds like Nemo is coming...