Data Center Security: Preparing for Natural Disasters

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In plotting a compliance strategy, remember that data center design standards are designed to satisfy multiple agendas. As we have seen, some best practices, like those involving perimeter security, may not afford optimum protection against wind and water hazards. Some level of compromise may be needed in selecting the best overall design.

Protecting Existing Data Centers

Asset Positioning 

To protect an existing data center, try "redecorating":

  • In any facility, water accumulates at the lowest level. Elevate equipment or other physical assets off the floor. In a multi-story facility, move the most valuable assets to the highest floor possible. Avoid the top floor, however, since strong winds could damage the roof.
  • Relocate equipment or other physical assets away from doors and windows.
  • Remove outdoor furniture, trash containers, and other relatively lightweight objects that could become windblown missiles.

Roof Integrity

 Inspect the roof flashing at regular intervals. According to the Factory Mutual Insurance Company, "The most important component of a roof system is the flashing. It acts as a termination along the edge of a roof where it meets the wall. Probably the single most cost-effective measure against wind damage to a roof is to ensure the flashing is properly secured."

Walls & Windows

 Line exterior walls with steel-reinforced concrete. Shield windows with hurricane shutters or other readily-deployable wind-resistant coverings. If possible, fill in window openings with concrete or brick.  

Water Evacuation

 Install pumping stations to remove storm water before it can accumulate to dangerous levels.  Install an emergency generator to ensure pumping operations are not disrupted due to an external power failure.

Weather Alerts 

Protecting a data center (or other enterprise facility) requires the receipt of timely weather information. In June 2013, SunGard Availability Servicesreleased its Weather Alert System, which informs customers of severe storms and natural disasters. The system leverages real-time data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide the latest storm intelligence.       

Recommendations for Data Center Protection

Protecting a data center from increasingly intense tornados, hurricanes, floods, and other natural phenomena involves economics as much as technology. According to Ron Vokoun, Mission Critical Market Leader Western Region at JE Dunn Construction, "From a structural standpoint, you can design and construct a facility to withstand just about anything. It comes down to how much you want to spend and weigh the extra costs against the benefits of locating in an area with [major storm] risks."

"If you are located in Florida, is the pull of the ‘server hugger’ mentality so strong that you will spend extra money to build your data center close to home, or will you move it farther inland within the constraints of your latency requirements? Do the incentives being offered by the Midwestern states offset the extra structural costs to build a data center that will withstand an F5 tornado? In many cases they do. It’s all about analyzing risk and TCO to make an informed business decision."

From a business continuity perspective, it's also about ensuring that critical business functions can continue even if efforts aimed at data center "hardening" are insufficient to prevent significant storm-related damages. Since, despite vendor assertions, no data center can be rendered truly disaster-proof, the enterprise business continuity plan should detail how data center services will be provided if a hurricane, tornado, or flood compromises data center operations.

Data center continuity or recovery plans would likely favor:

  1. The establishment of multiple, full-redundant enterprise data centers; or
  2. The option of invoking commercial cloud-based services.

In either case, enterprise information and information systems would not be served from a single, and ultimately vulnerable, enterprise facility.


Continuity Central:
SunGard Availability Services:
United States Secure Hosting and Colocation:
US National Institute of Standards and Technology:


1 Jason Verge. "Against The Wind: Storm-Proofing Data Centers for Hurricanes and Tornadoes." DataCenter Knowledge. June 14, 2013.

2 "Protecting Your Property from High Winds: Remove Trees and Potential Windborne Missiles." FEMA. April 2011.

3 Sue Hildreth. "Disaster-Proof Data Centers: Companies Look To Bunker-Style Hosting Sites For Protection." Processor | Sandhills Publishing Company U.S.A. September 25, 2009.

4 "Natural Disasters at Data Centers." Colocation America Inc. 2013.

5 "Protecting Your Facility Against Major Windstorms." Factory Mutual Insurance Company. May 2005.

6 Jason Verge. "Against The Wind: Storm-Proofing Data Centers for Hurricanes and Tornadoes." DataCenter Knowledge. June 14, 2013.

About the Author

James G. Barr is a leading business continuity analyst and business writer with more than 30 years' IT experience. A member of "Who’s Who in Finance and Industry," Barr has designed, developed, and deployed business continuity plans for a number of Fortune 500 firms. He is the author of several books, including How to Succeed in Business BY Really Trying, a member of Faulkner's Advisory Panel, and a senior editor for Faulkner's Security Management Practices. Barr can be reached via email at

This article is based on a comprehensive report published by Faulkner Information Services, a division of Information Today, Inc., that provides a wide range of reports in the IT, telecommunications, and security fields. For more information, visit

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