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Risky Thinking
On Risk Management, Business Continuity, and Security
26 May, 2017
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Why Hotels Can Be Dangerous (for Business Continuity)

If you've reviewed a few business continuity plans, you may have noticed how often teams are expected to assemble and work from a nearby hotel. Here's why that may not be a good idea.
Scary Hotel
“The Overlook Hotel certainly looks good on paper.”
Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson demonstrate one possible issue with using a hotel in Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece, The Shining.

It's sounds easy, doesn't it.

In the event of an incident rendering the building unusable, the Customer Service team will rent rooms at the nearby Main Street Hotel to continue working. They will plug their laptops into the hotel's internet connection to continue operations using the cloud server, and use soft VoIP phones and headsets to handle incoming and outgoing customer calls.

This plan has the merit of being very cheap. We just have to equip our Customer Service team with laptops, headsets, and soft phones, and give them a credit card to make a hotel reservation.

Indeed, we could even set up a credit account with the hotel so that credit cards won't be needed.

However, it's a plan which is quite likely to fail. Let's look at the reasons why:

  • The disaster has to be just the right size. It has to be just big enough to render our building unusable. Any smaller, and we can just relocate the team to an alternate room. Too big, and any other companies affected with the same idea will also try and book their staff into the same hotel. There might be enough room, but there might not.
  • Hotel networks typically aren't designed with intensive business use in mind. They are designed to let hotel guests check email and perhaps watch YouTube videos. They are therefore typically under-provisioned for intensive use. (The hotel would rather you rented that movie from them.) They aren't designed to provide the low-jitter needed for a voice-over-IP connection, nor are they designed to prioritize more urgent traffic. If a large number of guests are “trapped” in the hotel with little to do, the network performance is likely to drop significantly. The result will be unusable voice connections and very slow computer response.
  • It assumes that the hotel will and its network will remain in operation. Depending upon how far away the hotel is, it may also be evacuated or closed down. Think earthquakes, major storms, area flooding,and widespread power outages. Or even smoke from a fire.
  • If the local transport system is shut down, (e.g. due to a major storm), staff may not be able to reach the hotel or their normal place of work.
  • If any substantial number of people require temporary accommodation after an incident, emergency services may requisition the hotel for emergency use.
  • Depending upon the design of the hotel, there may or may not be enough power sockets, network sockets, suitable desks, or seats for everyone to use.

Equipping a Customer Service teams with laptops, headsets, and soft phones is a good idea. Giving them a laptop and headset which they can use from home if they can't make it into the office is also a good idea.

But assuming that the team can simply relocate to a nearby hotel in an emergency is just wishful thinking.

Michael Z. Bell
June, 2015

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