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WHY CREATING A DISASTER AND RECOVERY PLAN IS RIGHT FOR BUSINESS

WHY CREATING A DISASTER AND RECOVERY PLAN IS RIGHT FOR BUSINESS

Business owners are strongly encouraged to make contingency plans for responding to and recovering from disasters that may befall them. Analysts note that disasters, whether they take the form of floods, corporate espionage, fire, health pandemic, or power outages, can have a devastating impact on a business’s viability. Business experts also insist that the importance of a good disaster and recovery plan has never been as acute as it is today, in large part because so many businesses rely on vulnerable technology (communication networks, management information systems, process control systems, etc.) to execute fundamental business operations.

Various studies and surveys show that most organizations have not established a comprehensive strategy for disaster planning and recovery. The percentage of organizations that lack any semblance of a plan, is, simply put, frighteningly large. Many disaster contingency plans that do exist are applicable only to certain specific business processes. Put in another way, it is designed only to rescue specific bits and pieces of the business, not the entire organization.

Many other companies’ disaster planning policies, meanwhile, seem to consist only of disaster insurance. Such coverage is valuable, but it is only of limited usefulness. The role of insurance in protecting against loss of physical assets, such as buildings and equipment, is clear. However, using insurance policies to protect against the loss of cash flow, the ability to service customers, or the ability to maintain market share is often not practical. The primary function of business insurance is to provide a hedge against loss or damage.

A disaster recovery and business continuation plan, however, has three objectives:1) prevent disaster from happening: 2) provide an organized response to a disaster situation; 3) ensure business continuity until normal business operations can be resumed. It is essential, then, that businesses take the time and effort to construct comprehensive disaster and recovery plans if they hope to weather unwelcome interruptions in business operations in good financial and market condition.

CREATING A DISASTER AND RECOVERY PLAN

It is not easy to recognize the hundreds of hazards or perils that can lead to an unexpected loss. For example, unless you’ve experienced a fire, you may not realize how extensive the losses can be. Damage to the building and its contents are obvious, but you should also consider: smoke and water damage; damage to employees’ personal property and to others’ property (e.g. data processing equipment you lease or customers’ property left with you for inspection or repair) left on the premises; the amount of business you’ll lose during the time it takes to return your business to normal; the potential permanent loss of customers to competitors.

Of  course, many other types of disasters can strike a business as well, ranging from those triggered by natural events such as flood, tornadoes, earthquakes, or hurricanes, to those that come about as a result localized environmental problems, like water main breaks, work force strikes, power outages, hazardous materials spills, explosions, and major transportation mishaps (aircraft crash, train derailment, etc.). In addition, damage actions such as vandalism, sabotage, and arson can be classified as a disaster.

The first step in creating a strategy (or reviewing existing company plans) to protect a company from these and other events involves mustering the necessary business will to undertake the challenges associated with the task. However, business observers contend that many companies fail in this regard. The fact is that the majority of private sector management is still reluctant to allocate the necessary time, staff, or funds to prepare and plan for the possibility of a disaster that may put them out of business. This tendency to give short shrift to disaster planning is a common one. When the economic climate is favorable, contingency planning is last on the list of things to do; when profits are down, contingency planning is the first item to be cut from the budget. Business owners then need to make sure that they devote adequate resources to disaster preparedness and recovery planning before beginning the process. Contingency planning are ultimately doomed if they are undertaken without top management commitment, involvement, and support; participation from line managers and staff teams in both planning and implementation; an ongoing communication with all constituencies of the business.

Once a business’s leadership has decided to invest the necessary time and effort into the creation of a good disaster preparedness and recovery plan, it can proceed with the following steps.

Determining Vulnerabilities 

Begin the process of identifying exposures by taking a close look at each of your business operations and asking yourself what could cause a loss. If there are dozens of exposures, you may find dozens of answers. Many businesses use a risk analysis questionnaire or survey, available from insurance as a checklist. The questionnaire will typically address the business’s vulnerability to losses in the area of property, business interruption, liability, and key personnel, among others.

Obviously, this component of disaster preparedness planning, often referred to as risk management, needs to be comprehensive, covering all aspects of business operations, including telecommunications, computer systems, infrastructure, equipment, and the facility itself.

Gathering Information

 The process of creating a disaster planning and recovery strategy is, in reality, the result of determining the organization’s goals and objectives for business continuation (the ability to deliver its goods and services in the as-intended manner, utilizing its as-intended processes, methods and procedures, whether any out-of-course event might impair, impact, impede, interrupt, or halt the as intended workings and operations.

A disaster planning and strategy is not a method; it is a medium to sustain the organization. With this in mind, businesses should make an extra effort to solicit the opinions of all functional areas when putting together a disaster and recovery plan. Facility management areas may be most knowledgeable when it comes to the vulnerabilities of computer systems, office areas, etc., but other areas can often provide helpful information about the areas of the business that most need protection or fallback plans so that the business can continue to operate in the case of a disaster. 

Reconciling Findings with Principle Objectives

All businesses should be concerned with meeting certain fundamental goals of disaster prevention, safety and fiscal wellbeing when working on contingency plans. Analysts offer largely similar assessments of priorities in this regard, although minor differences in nuance and emphasis are inevitable, depending on the industry, the size of the business, and the viewpoint of the analyst. Most experts agree, however, that the primary objectives of a good disaster response plan should include:

  • Preventing disasters from occurring whenever possible through use of annual reviews, disaster prevention devices such as fire detectors and alarm systems, and physical access control procedures).
  • Containment of disasters when they do occur.
  • Protecting the lives, safety, and health of employers and customers.
  • Protecting property and assets.
  • Establishing priorities for utilization of internal resources (such as manpower, talent, and materials).
  • Providing an organized response to a disaster/ incident.
  • Minimize risk exposure and financial loss (disruptions to cash flow as a result of canceled orders, etc.) through alternate procedures and practices.
  • Prevent a significant long-term loss of market share.

Disaster response strategies will vary from business to business, but in the final analysis, they should be structured in ways that will best ensure that essential business functions can be maintained until operations can be returned to normal.

Communication of Plan

Disaster contingency plans should be widely disseminated throughout the company. All employees should be cognizant of the business’s basic disaster plan, but this is particularly important for managers, who are often called upon to make important operational decisions in the aftermath of crisis events.

Recovery

This final stage of contingency planning is concerned with returning the business to its pre-disaster competitive position (or at least returning it to as close to the position as is possible) and normal business operations in the event that a crisis event does take place. This entails restoring productivity in three primary areas: People, information, and facilities. People are the priority. You need to account for them physically and emotionally, and enlist them in your recovery efforts. Contact each employee personally; don’t be satisfied with a phone call.

Restoring technology is critical for two reasons. First, most companies rely on technology to conduct day-to-day business. Second, technology may represent your only means of giving your employees, customers, and the media important information as soon as they need it. Finally, while information and employees are portable, facilities are not. Your central facilities: mail room, copy center, and file room, need to be restored immediately. Office space is often on the critical path to people and information: without it, nothing else can happen. Safe practices are followed when searching for and conducting operations in temporary locations.

The recovery stage can be broken into two parts: First is the aspect of planning concerned with providing the resources for recovery. This encompasses the resources of a workplace, equipment, facilities, power,  communication capabilities, information and data, forms and other supplies, people, food lodging, transport, and all else that enables to the business processes to continue or to be re-established (within the planned timeline basis) after being impeded, impaired, interrupted, or halted.

The other aspect of the recovery phase is concerned with impact, consequence and effect mitigation, and damage restoration requisite for the return to as-intended functioning.

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Bernard Taiwo
I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.
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