Colorado Fires Threaten IT Businesses, Remind Them About Disaster Recovery

Massive wildfires scorching huge swaths of Colorado have local IT firms and solution providers looking over their shoulders -- and out their windows -- wondering how their business, and that of their clients, will be impacted.

While wildfires are burning in several western states, the worst-hit area so far seems to be in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area where the Reuters news service is reporting that, as of Wednesday afternoon, at least 32,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and that parts of the Air Force Academy there have burned.

The fires around Colorado Springs, a city of about 650,000 people, are among the worst to impact a major metropolitan area in the U.S. since the 2007 wildfire outbreak in the San Diego area.

[Related: Five Natural Disasters That Threatened To Break IT Supply Chains ]

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IT companies both large and small are being impacted by the fires, which so far are only about 5 percent contained and which could continue to with rising temperatures.

A number of employees of Colorado Information Technologies, a small solution provider in the city, have already lost their homes to the blaze, said Denise Gonzalez, office manager for the company.

Colorado Information Technologies is making plans to evacuate if needed, Gonzalez said.

"The other side of the road from where we are is in the mandatory evacuation area," she said. "We can see the fires from here. They're about 10 miles away."

Trevor Dierdorff, CEO of Amnet, an IT services and managed services provider for businesses with 20 to 200 seats, said his company is only three miles away from the evacuation area.

"So far, we see mostly smoke," Dierdorff said. "But if it were night, I expect we could see the flames reflected in the smoke."

Four of Amnet's employees are under mandatory evacuation orders from their homes, and one employee nearly lost her home, Dierdorff said.

Amnet has been in touch with customers to make sure their offsite backups were done properly, he said.

"It was our first order of business," he said. "One client, a small newer business, decided it didn't want the overhead of offsite backups. He called us frantically last night asking us to help him get set up. But by then, the power was out at his business."

NEXT: VAR Says Coloradoans Too Complacent About Disasters

Amnet's own servers are backed up using the services of Austin, Texas-based Artisan Infrastructure, Dierdorff said. Amnet's customers primarily use technology from Atlanta-based eFolder for online backups.

Dierdorff, in a Tuesday blog post that included several photos he took of the fire, chided the people of Colorado Springs for their complacency about potential disasters.

Residents of Colorado are lucky they don't get hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes, and that they seldom get a lot of snow, Dierdorff wrote.

"What if your business building was intact, but the police or fire department was going to keep you out of it for days or even weeks? Could you still serve your customers? Probably not, if you own a restaurant, retail store or hotel. Of course, that answer varies depending on what type of business you have and whether or not you have remote access," he wrote.

Dierdorff also outlined several basic steps businesses should take to prevent or minimize loss in case of a disaster, including documenting business assets and IT infrastructures, having a process in place for contacting clients and staff, determining how staff should react in a disaster and outlining who has access to business continuity plans if the top executives are not available.

"Remember, everything you do before a disaster strikes determines the likelihood of remaining in business after the disaster," he wrote.

While businesses close to the fire worry about how it will impact their operations and those of their customers, other businesses far from the fire are also feeling the heat, at least figuratively.

Michael Houghtelin, owner of TechnologyBytes, a Colorado Springs-based technology store that works with local end users and small businesses, said that while his business and its customers are on the side of the city away from the fire, it is still monitoring customers' backups.

"We can see the smoke," Houghtelin said. "This morning, we saw large pieces of ash all over the ground. Right now my nose is plugged because of the smoke."

Geography and luck determine how many companies will fare in the fire.

Hewlett-Packard, which has a large presence in the Colorado Springs area, closed its facility there. A company spokesperson said the facility as of Wednesday morning was within 1.5 miles of the fire.

NEXT: Wildfire Impacts And Geographical Location

The HP spokesperson issued a statement about the fires that read, "The fires in Colorado have resulted in the temporary closure of our facility in Colorado Springs. We can confirm that all HP employees were safely evacuated and no injuries were reported. HP is monitoring the situation closely, and has plans in place to assist our employees and minimize any disruption to our customers."

Storage vendor XIO, formerly known as Xiotech, last year moved its headquarters to Colorado Springs. A company spokesperson said the company is a safe distance from the fires, although several employees have been forced to evacuate their homes and stay with friends and relatives.

Arrow Electronics, the Englewood, Colo.-based distributor with facilities throughout Colorado, has so far been spared from the fires.

A company spokesperson, in an emailed response to a CRN query, wrote, "Through Arrow's business continuity team network, the company is monitoring the emergency situation across Colorado due to recent fire outbreaks, as the safety of our employees is always our top priority. Arrow’s facilities across Colorado have not been impacted by the fires, and Arrow is supporting employees and others in the community who have been evacuated from their homes by sponsoring a program to match employee contributions dollar for dollar."

Brocade's Colorado facility has been minimally impacted by the fires, a company spokesperson said.

In an emailed response, the spokesperson wrote, "The only issue we have been dealing with is associated smoke. To mitigate poor air quality, we have minimized the fresh air intake into the buildings to prevent unnecessary mixing and exposure with contaminated air. We will continue to monitor the situation in case it changes and will take any appropriate actions."