Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Disaster planning: Would your company sink or swim?

While it looks like the southern US coast evaded Hurricane Ike for now, it reminds us how serious the threat of disaster is and the importance of being prepared. Does your business have what it takes to come back from a catastrophic event?

No matter where your business is located, disaster preparedness and continuity plans are critical to survival after a disaster. A lack of planning can have dire consequences.

According to the Association of Small Business Development Centers:
  • More than one quarter of businesses will experience a “significant crisis” every year.
  • After a major disaster, 43% of businesses without an emergency plan will never reopen.
  • Of those that do reopen, only 29% are still operating after two years.

Whether your business is threatened by hurricanes, tornadoes, flood or man-made disasters like identity theft or crippling computer viruses, no business is immune to disaster. Blocked roads and flood waters may limit access even if your building suffers little damage.

"How quickly a company gets back to business after a fire or flood, terrorist attack, tornado, or man-made crisis often depends on emergency planning done now," said Dr. Robert Leviton, president and chairman of the board of the Corporate Emergency Access System (CEAS).

What can you do to limit lost productivity and profits after a disaster? The first step is to put together a disaster recovery plan. A basic plan should include:

  • Emergency contact numbers. Keep a current database of employee and emergency service phone numbers.

  • Detailed communication plans. How will top management deliver information to employees after a catastrophic event?

  • A list of critical tasks. Identify and distribute critical business operations to supervisors and employees.

  • An off-site meeting place. Designate an off-site location for top management to meet in case your building is unaccessible.

  • Customer communication plans. How will you communicate with customers on the status of their orders and deliver information to business clients?

  • Data recovery plans. Natural and man-made disaster can easily wipe out hard drives and destroy databases. Keep critical back-up data at an outside location and have a plan on how to retrieve that information if disaster strikes.

Once your disaster plan is in place, practice it and then practice it again. Train employees and supervisors on emergency procedures and what to do if they have limited or no access to the building.

Test your plan with emergency dry-runs and document performance. Look for ways to improve and update your plan wherever necessary.

The amount of lost time and productivity after a major disaster will ultimately come down to the effectiveness of your communication. With effective communication and employee cooperation, your business can keep recovery time to a minimum and your business standing after disaster.

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