National Preparedness Month is a great opportunity to perform some indispensable business continuity planning.
What would you do if a natural disaster struck today? Many of us may not have a well-developed answer to that, but the sponsors of National Preparedness Month at Ready.gov are working to change that. The overall theme of their campaign is to encourage planning for emergencies and not just for individuals—small businesses and global enterprises also need to plan for natural disasters, large-scale technology failures, and human-caused emergencies. Planning should include understanding your risks, preparing a communications plan and developing a business continuity plan.
Understanding Your Risks
Some risks are common to most businesses. Computer systems can fail and facilities can lose power. Other risks vary from business to business. For example, businesses on the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast need to deal with an annual hurricane season that runs from June through November. Businesses in the western United States are at high risk of wildfires in the summer months. Resources like the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center can help you understand the climate and weather risks in your area.
Preparing a Communications Plan
When an emergency strikes, people need information to help them make decisions about both their work responsibilities and their personal safety. Have a communications plan and emergency notification service in place. Your notification service should allow early responders to communicate with a limited group of employees, based on their roles, but also communicate with your entire staff if needed.
To ensure the emergency notification service will be there when you need it, test the service frequently. Tests should verify the system is functioning as expected and target the business continuity professionals responsible for system operations. Less frequent tests should involve all employees and other stakeholders, so they are familiar with how the system works. If there are major changes, be sure to notify users and conduct more practice runs. This gives everyone a chance to become familiar with the changes. Also, be sure to observe how people respond to new communications patterns. You may find that changes cause unintended consequences. Observing users during tests and interviewing a representative sample of users after tests can provide valuable information about the effectiveness of the emergency communications system.
Developing a Business Continuity Plan
A business continuity plan should include how-to guides for each employee. These guides should include contact information, meeting locations, guidance on important documents or other resources, and instructions on continuing business operations. The continuity plan should also identify essential business processes and resources.
While electronic files are typically top of mind to backup, do not overlook tangible assets in offices, manufacturing areas or work sites. You may need to move these during an emergency or ensure that they are accessible offsite if a disaster occurs. Plan for where these assets should go and how you will communicate the status of the moving operations to your staff.
The continuity plan should outline how to establish business operations after an emergency. Staff can start operations in a new location or continue on-site but with degraded capabilities. In either case, planning for how you will continue core business operations is essential.