Disaster planning needs to be done before disaster actually strikes. That may seem a statement of the obvious, but sitting down and actually preparing your plan is one of those jobs that it’s too easy to put off until ‘tomorrow’. However, decent disaster planning could make the difference between a minor interruption to normal service, and closing your business down for good. It really is that important.
Imagine the scenarios
The first step in disaster planning is to imagine what could go wrong both within your business, and with outside influences. A good example is bad weather. There is nothing you can personally do to prevent a heavy snowfall or high winds. However, you can have a decent plan in place to tell you, your employees, and your customers what will happen in the event of the business closing down because weather has prevented normal operation.
Make a list of all the events that really could happen, along with the actions that should be taken. Be realistic – only include events that conceivably could happen. These events could not only include severe weather. How about fire? It only takes someone to be careless with a cigarette or a match, and you have a blaze on your hands. Data breaches and hacking are another area to consider. Serious illness is another – can the business survive without you at the helm? Finally, these days, you need to consider how to cope with an attack by someone wielding a knife, a gun or a bomb.
You don’t have to work alone on disaster planning. If you have employees, involve them in the process too. They will come up with ideas that hadn’t occurred to you, and taking part in the planning process will give them greater buy-in to the finished plan.
Disaster planning – your responses
Now it’s time to document the actions to take in the event of a disaster, and who should take them. There will be events that may close your business, and events that only slow things down. For each scenario you have listed, note the potential consequences, and how your organisation plans to deal with them.
IT data and paper records are probably major assets for your business. These types of data are vulnerable to hacking, fire and flood. Consider backing up IT data off site (there are many providers who can do this for you). Critical paperwork, such as contracts and customer orders, should also be copied and kept off-site.
Your people are also a critical asset. You need to include evacuation procedures for emergencies, and methods to contact police, ambulance and other authorities during and after any major incident. We talk about managing health and safety risks in another article on this site.
Plant and machinery and IT kit are physical assets that are essential to your business operation. How would you cope if they were all destroyed? Consider the insurance coverage you have on physical assets, and how quickly or easily they could be replaced in the event of a major disruption.
Don’t forget your customers – you will need to keep them informed if they are going to be affected too.
Tell everyone the plan
The next step is to ensure that everyone is aware of the disaster plan, and their part in it. If your employees have been involved in the planning, this may make things easier. Never assume that ‘everyone knows’ the plan. Make sure people really are aware.
A lot to consider
As you can see, disaster planning is not just a matter of jotting down a few notes. To be useful, it needs to be done as soon as possible, and it needs to be detailed. Ideally, disaster planning should form a serious part of your ongoing business planning process. You don’t have to do it all yourself, you will be pleased to know that there is expert help available to prevent your disaster planning from becoming a disaster in itself.
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