This season's series of devastating hurricanes has served as a reminder that disaster can strike with little warning. Your business doesn't have to be based in a coastal area for it to be at risk due to the forces of nature. Tornadoes, earthquakes, blizzards, volcanoes, mudslides, typhoons, floods, and fires can all call an unexpected halt to business as usual. Less catastrophic events such as power outages and computer malfunctions can also disrupt your business and create costly downtime.
Most huge corporations have disaster elaborate disaster plans in place. Because they have so much to lose (and the funds to cover such a plan), they are often well prepared for whatever might happen. Mid-sized and small companies may have only a rudimentary plan – or none at all. Fortunately, most will never have reason to regret that oversight.
If you’d rather be prepared than trust to luck, the solution is a three-pronged approach that involves evaluation, preparation, and a proactive outlook.
Evaluation The first step in planning for a potential business interruption is to evaluate your situation. What are your most valuable assets? Where are your greatest areas of vulnerability? To create the most effective plan, imagine that the worst has happened and work backward from there. If your business facility were completely wiped out by flood or fire, what would be needed to get you up and running again?
Make a list of the equipment, people, and information that are the most critical for your business to operate. This will be a bare-bones list. Forget about all the bells and whistles for now. Ignore comfort and ease. You need to know the absolute minimum required to conduct your operation.
Here is a basic list to help jog your memory:
Armed with your list of critical equipment, people, and information, begin to map out a workable approach to disaster. For most businesses, the plan will need to address human, digital, and physical issues.
How will staff, clients, and vendors be made aware of the change in your business operations? Depending on the size of your company, you might need to set up a “calling tree” system which gives certain staff the responsibility for calling a particular group of people. The CEO might, for example, contact the VP and/or his administrative assistant. Those individuals would get in touch with senior management, each of whom would reach their direct reports. The tree continues to expand until all employees can be contacted. Medium and large companies might want to invest in calling tree software (see resources at the end of the article).
Staff members may need to contact clients, candidates, consultants, and vendors, as well, depending on the nature of the business disruption. To make sure everyone is contacted without duplication, assign people in advance to contact specific clients and vendors. When the calling tree is put into operation, remind employees to get in touch with their assignees and coach them as to what information to provide.
Digital information poses problems and offers solutions during catastrophic events. Because it typically resides on the equipment that’s likely to be damaged or inaccessible during a disaster, digital data is at a high risk for loss. Computer malfunctions or power outages can wipe it out at any time.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to back up digital data using external hard drives, servers, tape, and CDs. Don’t rely on one backup system alone, however. Make multiple copies of digital documents and databases and store them in several locations to ensure they’re protected come what may. Store a copy of your backups offsite in a safe deposit box or vault. And invest in a good fire and water retardant safe for storing onsite backups. In addition, consider uploading files to a secure online server so that you can access your information from any location.
In addition to digital data, be sure you also store the CD’s for your software programs offsite, preferably in a safe or safe deposit box. And install a copy of key software on a laptop that you keep offsite so that you can access important programs right away.
If your business facility is damaged or destroyed, phones, computers, and other devices may not be accessible. Plan in advance for alternatives. Cell phones provide a good alternative in most cases. Offsite laptop computers offer a way to access information from a safe location. PDA’s make valuable data such as contact information, account numbers, and passwords portable so that you don’t lose access when the office isn’t available. And store hard-copy files in your office safe or, better yet, in a safe deposit box at your bank.
The most important advice of all when it comes to business resumption is to adopt and maintain a proactive outlook. If you put off preparing for the worst, assuming the odds are on your side, you could get a nasty and very expensive surprise.
Make business resumption planning an ongoing activity. Create a planning schedule and put the most detail-oriented individual on your staff in charge of it. Assign the backup system to that person and give him/her the authority to call to task even the owner or CEO if disaster planning slides. Be sure to check your insurance policies annually and make sure your business policy offers sufficient protection.
Remind staff often of the importance of daily backups and keeping contact information current. Get employees involved by scheduling a catastrophe brainstorming session to generate ideas. Consider staging a periodic “disaster drill” to find the weak areas in your business resumption plan so that you can fine tune it.
The time and money you spend on your business resumption plan isn’t a sacrifice, but an investment. Even if you never have to use it, you’ll sleep better at night. And the process of creating your plan just might uncover a few ways to streamline your operating processes and save you both time and money.
iBackup.com www.ibackup.com The 2004 PC Magazine Editors’ choice for online backup solutions, with plans starting at $9.95/month.
SBA Disaster Preparedness www.sba.gov Additional tips for protecting your business from the Small Business Administration.
Fire Safes www.nextag.com Browse a wide selection of safes that are fire and water resistant.
TTI.net www.tti.net Offers an autodialer and emergency notification system.
- Scott Wintrip
Scott Wintrip, PCC (scottw@StaffingU.net) is Founder and President of StaffingU, the leader in providing relationship-building techniques guaranteed to grow your business. For information on StaffingU's programs and services, including TeleClasses (live telephone-based classes), Virtual StaffingU (web-based courses), individual and group coaching, on-site training and speaking, and consulting visit www.StaffingU.net or call 866-SU-WORKS (789-6757).