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Sleepless nights guaranteed

* Guide to Disaster Recovery By David Hyams.Pounds 95. MRC Business Information, 5 Worcester Street, Oxford. OX1 2BX.

Perhaps you are a head or a governor or a senior teacher, reading this comfortably at home at the weekend. Would it disturb you, I wonder, if I were to ask what you would do on Monday morning if, at this very moment, a fire was destroying your office computer and with it your pupil and staff databases and all your financial records?

Would you be up the famous Australian creek, or would you be able simply to wheel in another machine and reload everything from the back-ups which you keep with you at home?

If you want anything else to worry about, there are plenty of possibilities. Are you quite sure that the caretakers have a foolproof system for making sure all the external doors are locked at night? Is there a 50-year-old water pipe immediately above the filing cabinets? Did Mr Cloudbrain remember to switch the kiln off? What happened to that leaky bottle of hydrochloric acid you spotted in the lab and then forgot about?

The way to ensure sleepless nights, say today's management consultants, is through proper disaster planning and risk management.

Businesses, which can easily disappear in the wake of data loss, are understandably more aware of these issues than are many schools - research in 1990 showed that 80 per cent of firms which had computer disasters and no contingency plans went bankrupt within 18 months.

Adequate back-up systems for computers and appropriate security devices for buidings and equipment, though, are only part of the answer, according to Angus Fleming, of consultants MRC Business Information, "It's not just technology - it's the awareness and attitude of the people. You can do a great deal with some simple and cheap procedures."

In support of this principle, MRC have produced a ring-binder, Guide to Disaster Recovery which looks first at the potential horrors and then gives guidance on policies both to prevent them and to help with recovery after the event.

There are chapters on insurance, security, fire, buildings, computers and detailed step by step guidance through both prevention and recovery. The approach is practical, and each section is supported by planning sheets with such titles as "Computer hardware inventory", "advisers, suppliers and contractors".

Inevitably, not all of the content is relevant to schools. A surprising amount is, though, and it all has a keen, no-nonsense edge and a pleasing readibility. Schools, therefore, which in the past have often been cushioned from the effects of trouble by their local authorities, can learn a great deal from it.

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