European business leaders are well ahead of their American counterparts when it comes to planning for disaster recovery. European executives are in sync with their IT departments when it comes to assessing risk, while US management teams are blithely optimistic.

The stark differences have been highlighted in a survey conducted by research firm RoperASW. The company asked business leaders in Europe and the US what they thought about disaster recovery. The survey asked executives how vulnerable they felt their company was to "losing access to business-critical data" in the event of a disaster.

In Europe, business leaders and IT directors spoke as one: 40 percent of business leaders felt their data was "very vulnerable," compared to 44 percent of IT executives. Twenty five percent on the business side thought it would take more than three days to recover from a disaster, compared to 26 percent in IT. And 39 percent of business people thought the enterprise could be up and running within eight hours, compared to 31 percent of IT executives

But in the US, the two sides seemed to be inhabiting different worlds. Just 14 percent of business leaders felt that their data was "very vulnerable" in the event of a disaster, but almost four times as many IT executives felt that way: 52 percent of them saw their enterprise data as very vulnerable.

However, when it came to predicting disaster downtime, the disconnect was less pronounced: 91 percent of business executives thought they'd be able to resume normal business activities in less than three days after losing access to business-critical data, compared to 78 percent in IT, while 37 percent of business executives thought it would take their company eight hours or less to be up and running, compared to 40 percent on the IT side.

Two reasons account for the difference between European and U.S. responses, said EMC’s director of business continuity marketing, Stephen Higgins. First, "The fact that the organisations tend to be a little flatter in the European marketplace probably leads to better communications between the CIOs and business executives," he said.

Second, European history has simply made businesses there more aware of the possibility of a man-made disaster, like a terrorist attack, he said. "They're just more sensitive to those situations than their American counterparts."

The survey interviewed 274 executives at U.S. corporations and 254 in European companies, all of which had at least US$1 billion in annual revenue. Executives were chosen from a mix of industries, including health care, financial services, manufacturing, and retail.