The word disaster is commonly associated with hurricanes, earthquakes or floods.
defines a disaster as "... a sudden, unplanned calamitous event that creates an inability for an organization to provide critical business functions for an undetermined period of time resulting in great damage or loss to that organization."
It's safe to consider a disaster as any event that causes loss because your business could not operate for more than a brief time. Consider these facts:
- COMPUTER OUTAGES A company that experiences a computer outage lasting more than 10 days will never fully recover financially. 50% will be out of business within five years. 
- DATA LOSS 70% of small firms that experience a major data loss go out of business within a year. 
- DISASTER 80% of companies that do not recover from a disaster within one month are likely to go out of business. 
- HUMAN ERROR 32% of all data loss is due to human error. 
- PANDEMIC Dr. Joseph Domenech of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, in a March 2008 report states that, "Despite major control efforts [Indonesia, the hardest hit country to date] has not succeeded in containing the spread of avian influenza in poultry." "Furthermore, I am deeply concerned that the high level of virus circulation in birds in the country could create conditions for the virus to mutate and to finally cause a human influenza pandemic." In the event of a pandemic in the US, persons would be discouraged (or prohibited) from congregating or even going to work.
- NORTHRIDGE QUAKES, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 1994: Bob Lorsch’s marketing and public relations company had its offices on the top floor of a high-rise suburban office building near the quake’s epicenter. In an instant he was wiped out. Every piece of information, all his company’s work-in-progress, was on computers in his office and what hadn’t been destroyed, was inaccessible for weeks because the building was declared structurally unsafe.
- HURRICANE KATRINA, GULF COAST, 2005: Makeup and wardrobe consultant, Adrienne Moncrief Hemphill ran a small but thriving custom-label makeup business in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which was demolished by Hurricane Katrina. Essentially her most valuable possession was her mailing list of her some 500 customers she kept on her computer. She lost everything in the storm, her catalogs, her Web site, her inventory of products and most disastrous of all, her mailing list. She was able to relocate to Jackson, Mississippi where she faced the prospect of essentially starting her business over again from scratch.
- HARD DRIVE CRASH: For Deborah Hopkins, president of St. Louis based Christian Management Resources, it wasn’t an earthquake or a hurricane that almost spelled disaster for her small company, it was the most common of computer problems, a crashed hard drive. Right in the middle of preparing a critical grant application, with the deadline approaching, her company’s computer suddenly crashed completely. “We were between offices, so I was using only one computer at the time, Ms. Hopkins remembers, “but suddenly as we faced this inflexible grant application deadline, the computer crashed completely. We were not backing up every day and some of the backup we had was old or the tape system was not very effective, so basically everything we had and needed was suddenly inaccessible. We faced a disaster.”
- GREAT CHICAGO FLOOD, 1992:
In 1899 the city of Chicago started work on a series of interconnecting tunnels located approximately
forty feet beneath street level. This series of tunnels ran below the Chicago River and underneath
the Chicago business district, known as The Loop. The tunnels housed a series of railroad tracks that
were used to haul coal and to remove ashes from the many office buildings in the downtown area.
The underground system fell into disuse in the 1940’s and was officially abandoned in 1959 and the
tunnels were largely forgotten until April 13th, 1992.
Rehabilitation work on the Kinzie Street bridge crossing the Chicago River required new pilings and a work crew appearently drove one of those pilings through the roof of one of those long abandoned tunnels. The water flooded the basements of Loop office buildings and retail stores and an underground shopping district. More than 250 million gallons of water quickly began flooding the basements and electrical controls of over 300 buildings throughout the downtown area. At its height, some buildings had 40 feet of water in their lower levels. Recovery efforts lasted for over four weeks and, according to the City of Chicago cost businesses and residents, an estimated $1.95 billion. Some buildings remained closed for weeks. In those buildings were hundres of small and medium businesses suddenly cut off from their data and records and all that it took to conduct business. The underground flood of Chicago proved to be one of the worst business disasters ever.
1. Jon Toiga, Disaster Recovery Planning: Managing Risk and Catastrophe in Information Systems
2. Strategic Research Corp and DTI/Price Waterhouse Coopers, Contingency Planning, 2004
3. Jonathan Bernstein, Bernstein Crisis Management: Director, 1998
4. Hewlett Packard & SCORE, Impact on U.S. Small Business of Natural & Man-Made Disasters, 2007