Disaster Planning

The risk of a company having to close permanently after a hurricane, earthquake, fire or other type of natural (or manmade) disaster makes business continuity planning—making preparations for how a company can restore operations following a disruption—critical for companies of all sizes.

Business continuity planning allows company executives to identify critical assets and procedures, and to plan for ways to recover those assets (and perhaps the company itself) following a major disruption.

After discussing how your company can make sure customers and employees are safe, an effective business continuity plan (BCP) starts by asking "what if" questions about a company and its operations. What would we need to restore first? Is our data safe? How do we get running again?

Understanding the answers to these questions will help your company assess its most critical business functions, and the hazards that can potentially disrupt them.

Assessing the Risk

It’s important for executives from different disciplines, including finance, legal, public relations, operations and other units to consider how a disaster could affect a company’s workforce, production facility, supply chain, utilities, IT equipment and other resources.

It’s also helpful for the company to identify and cross-train managers who can serve as backup in case an executive cannot fill his or her normal role during an emergency.

Depending on the company, it may be worthwhile to identify a backup facility for the company to resume operations. Maintaining a duplicate production line probably isn’t a practical option, but a services firm may be able to gather key personnel in a hotel conference room to get operations off the ground.

Communications will be critical immediately after a disaster, so executives should have lists of who they will be expected to contact. This may include supervisors, suppliers, key customers, emergency responders, the news media and other interested parties.

Protecting Data

While computers, hardware and other IT assets are important, it’s important to remember the true business value is derived from the data that’s stored on those devices. In the aftermath of a disaster, recovering business data will likely be essential in helping the organization return to even a semblance of normal operations.

It’s not enough to assume that because your company is backing up data, it will be able to restore that information after a disaster. Storage media such as backup tapes are vulnerable to physical damage during a disaster, so it’s important to store backup media in a different location than your primary data center. Using an online backup service to store data securely on a remote server may be a good idea for many companies.

Regardless of how your company backs up data, it’s important to periodically attempt to recover files to ensure the backup is functioning properly.

Test the Plan

Having what seems like an effective BCP on paper is only the beginning. Once or twice a year, it’s valuable for executives to set aside an afternoon to think through the plan and talk through its assumptions.

Even talking about a simulated disaster can help the company identify flaws or outdated information in its continuity plan, and provide an opportunity to correct those flaws long before disaster strikes.

To learn more:

Next: Disaster Recovery