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How to Test a Disaster Recovery Plan

There are many important components of a successful disaster recovery plan. The most important, of course, is having an experienced disaster recovery team in place and ready to act. But you must also have established procedures for all other departments in your organization to understand and follow in order to ensure that operations continue to run as smoothly as possible in the event of an unfortunate disaster.

If you’ve done all this, kudos to you.

But have you also already tested your disaster recovery plan to see how effective and reliable it actually is? Better to know beforehand if it works and if there are any areas that need tweaking, rather than waiting and making a critical mistake that results in a loss of important data.

So how do you test a disaster recovery plan? There are actually several different methods and routines you might engage in depending upon the aspects of your plan as well as the specific disaster that may occur.

Make a disaster recovery checklist

The first thing you’ll want to do is make a checklist that contains all the items that might pertain to any type of disaster. While not every item on the list will be applicable to certain events, having a complete list will certainly enable you to be more prepared, as well as thoroughly test your disaster recovery plan.

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When making your checklist, consider the following:

  • What is the objective of the test?
  • How will test results be collected?
  • How will you notify personnel of the test?
  • What aspects of your plan will you be testing?

Things you should test for include:

There is, of course, much more to consider, and you should also welcome input from staff or your managed IT services team that may have ideas on other unique challenges you would face during a company disaster.

“40-60% of small businesses who lose access to operational systems and data without a DR plan close their doors forever.”


When to test your disaster recovery plan

Just as you should be testing your data backups, you should also test various aspects of your DRP at least once a year, or when any major changes to your business take place. For example, new personnel would at the very least need to be made aware of specific protocols to follow during a disaster, and new systems would need to be tested.

When you are ready to test your disaster recovery plan, you must ensure that all involved are present and accounted for, and that all personnel are aware of their function. Additionally, you should be prepared to accurately record the results so that you can thoroughly review them afterward. This will enable you to recognize any issues and weaknesses in the plan and make adjustments accordingly.

Different ways to test your disaster recovery plan

Review your DRP

To avoid the cost and drain on resources, as well as the interruption to daily operations, you can occasionally choose to review the DRP plan with management and team leaders. You may find that some aspects of the plan need to change due to certain changes made to the business infrastructure. This is also referred to as a paper test.

Tabletop Test

Somewhat of a more thorough review, the tabletop test also involves management and team members discussing what actions they would take during different disaster scenarios. This enables you to see exactly how staff might react and whether they might require more training to complete certain objectives during a disaster. This is also referred to as a walkthrough test.

Simulation Test

A simulation gives team leaders and other personnel the opportunity to perform certain actions during a simulated disaster. This type of test provides you with a better representation of how adequate your emergency response may be.

Parallel Test

In a parallel test, you will set up a network and system that mirrors your current setup. You then test them to see if they function in a similar fashion. This will let you know if you can perform critical business functions on another system, in another location, during a disaster. Similar to this test is the cutover test. That’s where you completely shut the primary systems down to see if the recovery system can handle a full workload.

“In order to ensure effective disaster recovery preparedness, organizations should plan for an end-to-end disaster recovery exercise including all interdependent applications in scope.”

Disaster Recovery Journal

Full-Scale Test

The most thoroughly involved test. It may cost you a bit of money to make this test as realistic as possible. However, it affords you the opportunity to fully realize any flaws and critical areas that need to be addressed. You might even consider keeping the scenario a secret from employees. That way, you can accurately record and review how all levels of personnel might act during a true disaster. A realistic disaster environment is really effective. After all, it’s the best way to test for any areas of weakness and obtain the most information.

After the test, take the time to sit with personnel and discuss the scenario and their actions. Make sure to also discuss whether you need to make additional preparations or if you require more training.

Get Expert DRP Help

In truth, full-scale test isn’t something you may enact often. However, you should (at the very least) test your disaster recovery plan using one of the lesser methods of review on a consistent basis to ensure complete preparedness.

Organizations that want to ensure their DRP goes off without a hitch often trust an experienced managed service provider to handle everything for them. We can help you develop, test, and enact your disaster recovery plan without issue.