Alarm Fatigue – When Your Backups Cry Wolf


What would happen if the fire alarm in your office went off at this very moment? Would there be a mad rush for the doors, or would most people just ignore it and keep working until they smelled smoke?

As indicated by the Institute for Research in Construction, only about 25% of occupants react to fire alarms as if they were potential indicators of a real emergency. Instead, most people assume that the alarm is merely a drill.

In other words, fire drills DECREASE the life-saving effectiveness of fire alarms.

Here’s another example to consider.

In 2010, an 89-year-old patient died of heart failure at Massachusetts General Hospital. For 20 minutes, a series of alarms, beeps, and messages had been sending urgent warnings to the hospital staff. It was so distracting that an employee had to manually shut off the crisis alarm on the patient’s bedside monitor. Instead of taking appropriate action, these signals were ignored entirely.

These nurses weren’t evil or cold-blooded. Instead, they had become desensitized by years of constant false-alarms from oversensitive and malfunctioning medical devices. When an actual crisis was detected, everyone assumed it was simply a false alarm.

This phenomenon is called “Alarm Fatigue”, and it can easily lead to accidental data loss and failure of critical business systems.

As an IT administrator, you are constantly juggling priorities, multi-tasking and keeping up with unplanned work. Alarms are constantly going off; also, your job is to choose which fires are generally imperative.

In most cases, if you miss a legitimate alarm, the outcomes are generally minor. But there’s one area where the results can be very severe.

Compared to other conflicting responsibilities, backup and disaster recovery rarely feel like an urgent priority. But when they do become a priority, it’s usually too late to do anything about it.

To be an active IT leader, and respond more efficiently, you need to manage your signal-to-noise ration. Before you’re notified of an alarm, it helps to have someone that will verify and triage for you. You should only be notified of actual emergencies that require your immediate attention.

Specialization and delegation are an effective way to deal with alarm fatigue. When you delegate backup to a specialist, you can eliminate all of the distractions and conflicting priorities that might lead to alarm fatigue. Instead, you establish a consistent, repetitive process where every potential problem is proactively investigated and fixed. At that point, you can execute additional layers of auditing and monitoring to get any issues that might fall through the cracks.

By making this a dedicated and focused role within your IT function, you can significantly reduce the chances of alarm fatigue creeping into your backup and disaster recovery process.

Of course, this might not be a feasible option for most organizations. If you can’t afford to have a dedicated internal data protection and business continuity team, then outsourcing your backups to a dedicated provider can give you the same benefits as a fraction of the cost.

By outsourcing your data protection and business continuity to a specialized service provider, you can guarantee exhaustive protection and total peace of mind.

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