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5 Steps to Prepare Your Business for a Disaster

Starting off Monday morning with a computer equipment failure was just not how I had planned to begin an already busy week. What steps can you take to make sure your business survives a disaster?

Starting off Monday morning with an equipment failure in one of our computer servers was just not how I had planned to begin an already busy week.  I started right away on contingencies for affected work and our disaster recovery process.  Fortunately, we had backups and were able to recover completely with no loss of data.

However, I think it could have been less time consuming (and stressful) if we had updated our business continuity planning to reflect our current business practices.  It was a reminder for me that disaster recovery plans should be reviewed and updated at least annually.

Business continuity planning is the process of making sure you have plans to recover your critical business functions in the event of a disruptive event. Whether it is devastating damage, like many businesses suffered from Hurricane Sandy, or a more limited computer malfunction, it is important to have up-to-date business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

40% of all businesses never reopen after a disaster. Of those that do, 25% fail within one year (Source: FEMA).  Planning can make the difference.

Here are five steps to develop your plan:

Business Continuity Planning

1. KNOW YOUR RISKS

These include things like weather, physical damage to the buildings or equipment, extended utility outages, supplier issues, restricted access to site, and information technology damage or loss of service including voice, internet, communications, cell phones, servers,  computer systems and company data.  Put in place controls to mitigate the risks

2. ANALYZE AND DOCUMENT CRITICAL BUSINESS FUNCTIONS

Who, What, When and How critical business functions are done today. Prioritize. What would you need if a disaster strikes? Where would you operate? What would need done first?

3. DEVELOP STRATEGIES

What tools, infrastructure, records, people will be needed to continue the business? How and where will you do it? As all businesses rely more on technology for core business functions, a separate Information Technology Disaster Recovery Plan is also needed.

4. COMMUNICATE

Ensure that all key people know what to do, how and when to do it, and what to say in the event of a crisis. Have copies of plans, phone numbers, and key vendor and customer information readily available. Make sure it is not all stored at your business location in the event you cannot get in the building. This is a case where you want a paper copy as well as electronic copies of the document.  One tip is to store a copy of your communication plan in the trunk of your car.

5. TEST AND EVALUATE

Don’t wait for a disaster to test your plans. Review and evaluate plans on a regular basis.

There are some great free resources and checklists available for businesses to use in this process:

Small Business Administration has resources and templates to download athttp://www.preparemybusiness.org/planning

FEMA has video training, templates for plans and software to create your own plan athttp://www.ready.gov/business

Each business will have a unique set of critical processes and risks, so unfortunately there isn’t some sort of standard checklist all businesses can use. Use business continuity planning as an opportunity to design business processes that can work in both normal and emergency environments to minimize the disruption to your business in the event of a disaster.  Having plans in place where everyone knows what to do will also alleviate additional stress on employees and their families who may also be personally affected by the disaster.

It may seem like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be done all at one time. Start with the most critical processes in your business, and keep refining your plan over time. It just might be the difference in your business’ survival in the event of a disaster.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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