What is the disaster recovery plan for information systems?

A disaster recovery plan is a documented process or set of procedures to recover and protect an organization’s information technology (IT) infrastructure in the event of a disaster. Having a comprehensive disaster recovery plan is critical for any organization that relies on IT systems and data to conduct business.

When disaster strikes, whether it’s a natural catastrophe, power outage, cyber attack or other crisis, organizations must quickly restore critical IT operations to keep the business running. However, research shows that 40% of businesses close permanently after experiencing a major data loss event. An inadequate or nonexistent disaster recovery plan can result in significant financial losses, operational downtime, loss of customers, damage to an organization’s reputation and more.

What are the key components of a disaster recovery plan?

An effective disaster recovery plan will address the following key areas:

Emergency response procedures

The plan should outline actions to be taken in the initial hours or days following a disaster. This includes assigning roles and responsibilities for disaster response teams, communication protocols and processes to assess and document damage. Emergency response procedures focus on stabilizing the situation and addressing immediate threats to human life and safety.

Backups and offsite data storage

Backing up systems, applications and data is a foundational element of the disaster recovery planning. Copies of critical information should be stored offsite or in the cloud so they are isolated from any onsite disasters. The plan should identify key systems and data for backup, frequency of backups, retention policies, storage locations, and how backups can be accessed for recovery.

Secondary infrastructure

Organizations should have alternative infrastructure to fail over to or mobilize on demand in the event primary systems and facilities are impacted by disaster. Options include cloud computing, co-location facilities, temporary office space, emergency power supplies and replacement hardware ready for shipment. The plan outlines how redundant infrastructure will be activated during a crisis.

System recovery procedures

Detailed technical procedures for recovering hardware, operating systems, applications, data and network connectivity should be included in the plan. System dependencies and recovery time objectives need to be documented so systems can be restored in a logical order and support critical business processes.

Testing and exercises

Regular testing of the disaster recovery plan identifies gaps, ensures systems and staff are prepared, and familiarizes the organization with emergency processes before an actual crisis. Different types of exercises such as walkthroughs, simulations and full-scale drills should be performed periodically.

Communication strategy

The disaster recovery plan should outline procedures for communicating with key internal and external stakeholders during and following a disaster. This ensures people are notified regarding the incident, status updates, and actions being taken for recovery.


Maintaining thorough documentation of the disaster recovery plan, including procedures, system information, staff responsibilities, contact lists and task checklists helps guide activities during response and recovery efforts.

How often should disaster recovery plans be updated?

Disaster recovery plans need to be living documents that are updated regularly to adapt to changes within the organization. Key events that should initiate an update include:

  • Major system or architecture changes
  • New hardware, applications, data sources or software
  • Changes in backup and redundancy mechanisms
  • New business processes or workflows
  • New facilities or data center locations
  • Organizational changes such as acquisitions, mergers or divestitures
  • Changes in contact lists or leadership roles and responsibilities
  • Regulatory compliance requirements
  • Gap identified during testing
  • Lessons learned from an actual disaster recovery activation

Best practice is to review and update disaster recovery plans at least annually. More frequent reviews may be warranted for organizations with rapidly evolving IT environments and infrastructure. Any changes that could impact the plan such as technology shifts should be immediately incorporated.

What steps are involved in developing a disaster recovery plan?

Developing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan involves the following key steps:

Secure executive buy-in

Gaining sponsorship from senior management provides the necessary budget and authority to develop a robust disaster recovery plan.

Perform risk assessment

A risk assessment helps identify potential threats, vulnerabilities and their business impacts. These insights guide which systems, processes and organizational functions need to be addressed in the plan.

Establish priorities and recovery objectives

Decide on the recovery time objectives (RTO) and the recovery point objectives (RPO) for systems, data and applications based on criticality to the business. This drives decisions regarding investment in backups, redundant infrastructure and resilience.

Develop recovery strategies

Select the technical, operational and organizational strategies that will be implemented for disaster prevention and response based on risk assessment findings and priorities.

Document detailed procedures

Document technical steps, team roles and responsibilities, vendors and contact lists, training requirements, and other specifics needed to execute on the disaster recovery strategies.

Implement preparedness controls

Implement backup systems, emergency response processes, testing protocols and other controls to ensure readiness to enact the disaster recovery plan.

Test the plan

Perform regular exercises to validate that recovery strategies are effective and to identify any gaps in the plan. Testing also helps establish organizational readiness to respond.

Train staff

Conduct training to ensure all responsible parties understand their individual roles and the overall disaster recovery program.

Maintain and update the plan

Keep the plan current by reviewing and revising it regularly to account for changes in technology, business processes, staff and other elements of the environment.

What are some key disaster recovery planning best practices?

Follow these best practices when developing a business continuity and disaster recovery plan:

  • Obtain buy-in from senior management to support planning efforts
  • Involve multiple departments such as IT, facilities, operations, communications, legal/compliance and business continuity teams
  • Identify critical systems and highest priority resources for recovery
  • Consult risk assessments when developing recovery strategies and procedures
  • Define clear roles and responsibilities for internal teams and external partners
  • Ensure redundancy for critical infrastructure and systems
  • Locate backups and redundant systems at offsite facilities
  • Consider cyber resilience by protecting against modern threats
  • Align plans with business impact analysis outcomes
  • Validate recovery capabilities through regular testing
  • Provide disaster recovery training to staff at least annually
  • Review and update the plan at least once a year

Following disciplined planning processes, involving the right stakeholders, testing continuously and keeping the plan aligned with business needs leads to a higher level of preparedness.

What should be included in a disaster recovery plan for data centers and servers?

Disaster recovery plans tailored to data centers and servers should include the following elements:

  • Inventory of all hardware and systems – Details on physical and virtual servers, network devices, appliances, storage infrastructure and system software.
  • Diagrams/maps of facilities and infrastructure – Visual layouts showing location of equipment, power and network connections within data centers.
  • Risk assessment outcomes – Identification of failure scenarios and potential impacts on data center operations and capacity.
  • Regular backup procedures – Policies, schedules, retention and media used for performing backups of systems, data and configurations.
  • Offsite storage – Processes for maintaining copies of backups in alternate locations not vulnerable to the same risks.
  • Secondary data center and cloud strategy – Options for shifting operations from primary data center including failover capabilities, hosted environments and cloud services.
  • Emergency response procedures – Immediate actions to assess damage, protect resources, notify stakeholders and mobilize recovery personnel during crisis.
  • Recovery plans – Detailed step-by-step procedures for restoring server systems, operating systems, data and connectivity coded with proper sequencing and dependencies.
  • Testing methodology – Description of scheduled exercises to verify the disaster recovery plan and processes work prior to actual need.

Keeping the plan updated as infrastructure, technology and facilities change enables faster and more effective response when disaster strikes.

What are the pros and cons of cloud-based disaster recovery services?

There are both advantages and potential drawbacks to using cloud-based disaster recovery services:

Pros of cloud-based disaster recovery:

  • No upfront infrastructure costs since cloud provides pay-as-you-go model
  • Scalable to adjust capacity as needed for backups and failover operations
  • Public cloud offers geographic diversity for offsite replicas and redundancy
  • Cloud-to-cloud failover enables faster recovery time (RTO)
  • Maintenance performed by cloud provider relieves burden from IT staff
  • Cloud-based recovery options for most major systems and platforms
  • Regular testing built into cloud-based disaster recovery services

Cons of cloud-based disaster recovery:

  • Recurring operating expense versus predictable capital investment
  • Dependence on internet connection for recovering data and systems
  • May still need local backups for low RPO requirements
  • Longer recovery time if large data transfers needed to restore in cloud
  • Compliance challenges in some regulated industries
  • Limited configuration options compared to traditional disaster recovery setups
  • Vendor lock-in can constrain flexibility to change providers

Organizations make cloud-based disaster recovery part of strategy to gain advantages like reduced RTO while engineering solutions to address drawbacks such as internet dependence.

What are the critical components of a disaster recovery plan for small businesses?

Small businesses have constrained resources, yet still need adequate disaster recovery safeguards. Critical elements of a DR plan for small businesses include:

  • Backups – Regularly backing up servers, computers, data, financials and other key systems using inexpensive disk drives and services.
  • Offsite storage – Storing backup media or key documents in online storage, external hard drives rotated offsite, fire safes or safety deposit boxes.
  • Shared workspace options – Alternate work arrangements such as work-from-home, rotating locations, or coworking space partnerships to enable operations if office access is lost.
  • Cloud computing – Using public cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and software as a service (SaaS) for storage, automatic backup and systems that can be failed over to.
  • Generators and UPS – Gas/diesel generators and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to handle short-term power outages for critical devices.
  • Emergency communications – Out-of-band communications plan using methods like radio, satellite phone or social media when primary channels fail.
  • Employee training – Cross-training staff for key business functions like payroll, accounting, systems administration, and customer service so work can continue in absence of certain employees.

A cost-effective disaster recovery plan can be built through creative use of conventional technology and alternatives to provide basic data and systems protection for small businesses.

Should disaster recovery procedures be documented in business continuity plans?

Yes, disaster recovery procedures and processes should be incorporated into broader business continuity plans whenever feasible. Maintaining disaster recovery and business continuity procedures within an integrated plan delivers several advantages:

  • Ensures alignment of disaster recovery with business priorities and risk impact analysis outcomes documented in BCP
  • Allows managers to view business continuity and disaster recovery in context of full spectrum of risk and resilience
  • Promotes coordination of disaster recovery efforts under overall business continuity program governance
  • Creates opportunity for unified training across crisis response teams
  • Provides central repository for all organizational resilience strategies and measures
  • Reduces duplication of common elements like emergency communications procedures
  • Simplifies distribution of plan updates and maintenance to one central document
  • Consolidates testing for both disaster recovery and business continuity plans

However, very complex organizations may maintain separate dedicated disaster recovery plans if scope requires granular details and recovery procedures tailored to IT infrastructure versus enterprise-wide business continuity planning.


A comprehensive, well-documented disaster recovery plan is a foundational requirement for any organization that depends on information technology and data for routine operations. By outlining detailed recovery procedures, system prioritization, resilience strategies and testing protocols, organizations can minimize downtime, data loss and business disruption when unanticipated incidents occur. Regularly maintaining, testing and distributing disaster recovery plans enables effective and timely response and recovery when disasters unfold. Disaster recovery planning integrated with larger business continuity management provides optimal risk and resilience capability.