These back office units that are sometimes overlooked include:
• The mail room
• The cafeteria
• Travel services
• Human resources, particularly benefits
• Finance (accounting)
Despite living in an electronic age, much of our communications is still done through “snail mail” or via package carriers such as DHL and UPS. Incoming packages and letters, and outgoing items, are handled by those back office folks known as “The Mail Room.” If a catastrophe destroys a facility, mail room staff can file change of address notifications with the post office, or package carriers for the incoming items. But the mail room staff will have to know where, physically, the internal units have relocated to so they can handle incoming and outgoing items. This could be serious if the business is expecting to receive or deliver time-critical items such as bills.
Business units should identify their need for physical mail, provide relocation site information to the mail room, and make sure that the mail room is aware of the assumptions being made about services required, especially about time critical items such as payments or invoices. The mail room may have to create their own recovery plans so they can continue to support their clients.
In the event of disaster that does not force relocation but requires people to work long hours, the cafeteria may be called upon to provide snacks, meals and drinks at off hours. The cafeteria staff should be told that they might be called upon at odd hours. The cafeteria staff may also help locate catering services at relocation sites.
Travel services may be called upon to provide airline tickets and lodging reservations for those who have to relocate. If travel services can’t provide these services, recovery efforts may be seriously impacted. Travel services should be informed about where the relocation sites are and what the timeframes are for travel. If travel services is located in the main facility, they should have their own recovery plans, and should let those units that may relocate know what travel services’ plans are and how to contact them. An 1-800 number for travel services may be very helpful. Toll-free numbers can usually be easily rerouted to alternate sites.
Some of those being asked to relocate may not normally travel on business and may not have credit cards, or their credit cards may be maxed out. Travel services should have plans in place to guarantee hotel and airline reservations so staff does not have to pay for these large ticket items from of their own pockets.
A widespread geographic disaster may cause injuries to employees or their families, or damage to employees’ homes, or other sudden expenses. Employees will want their life and medical insurance questions and requests handled quickly, and may need to make loans or withdrawals from their thrift accounts, IRAs or retirement accounts to help with home repairs or sudden expenses. The benefits staff should be prepared to offer employees help with insurance or withdrawals, and employees should know how to contact the benefits staff during an emergency. An 1-800 number to the benefits department may be very helpful. Employees who know their homes and families are safe can better concentrate on recovery.
Human resources should also be prepared to provide grief or shock counseling in the aftermath of the disaster, and stress counseling during the recovery.
The finance (or accounting) staff should be brought into the planning process so they can support sudden needs for major expenditures to pay for new equipment, lease space, begin rebuilding, hire specialized services, etc. The finance staff should be prepared to track expenses so they can provide management with an accurate financial picture of the organization. Finance should also develop plans to provide cash advances to staff that are relocating so employees will have cash at their relocation sites. Employees should know how to arrange for cash advances during an emergency. Again, an 1-800 number to the finance department may be very helpful.
Our relocation sites may be stocked with the terminals and equipment needed to recover, but plans should be in place for the maintenance staff to carry out regular preventative maintenance on these machines, as well as provide emergency fixes. The equipment stocked in relocation sites may be used more heavily than normal, so maintenance schedules may have to be adjusted.
The three main points to consider in dealing with the “Folks in the Back Office” are:
1. Back office units will need their own recovery plans, or at a minimum, notification plans, so they can support recovery.
2. They should be included in other units’ recovery planning.
3. They should be aware of the recovery assumptions that the operational units are making about the services that the “Folks in the Back Office” can provide.
Chris Rohrs is a business continuity/disaster recovery planner with extensive experience in the financial sector. He also has many years of experience as a team leader and project manager working on IT projects. Chris lives in northern California. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.