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Thursday, 15 January 2015 06:00

Why Businesses Need a Disaster Preparedness Plan

Written by  Brian Crotty

With record-breaking storms shutting down cities across the U.S. in 2014, many businesses have found themselves dealing with weather-related repercussions over and over again. No part of the country is immune to natural disasters. They have the ability to effect all areas across the U.S., most frequently making appearances in the form of winter storms in the Northeast, hurricanes in the South, tornadoes and flooding in the Midwest, and earthquakes on the West Coast.

In many cases, the after-effects of natural disasters are so damaging that businesses have a hard time recovering from the loss of income. In fact, according to the Red Cross, 40 percent of small businesses are so devastated after a major natural disaster that once they shut down, they never reopen. It is because of this startling statistic that businesses should realize the importance of having a plan of action in place in the event of a natural disaster.

Businesses need to take time in advance to identify potential vulnerabilities that exist within their organizations in order to ensure the right steps are taken to deal with disasters in a way that ensures their survival in the aftermath. Below you will find an outline for how to identify holes and the steps needed to develop a disaster preparedness plan for your business.

Step 1 – Take a Business Continuity Assessment

In order to understand how to develop the right plan of action in the event of a natural disaster, it’s crucial to understand innate business weaknesses and areas of vulnerability. Organizations like the American Red Cross, U.S. Small Business Administration, and many others offer ways to help identify potential risks to business continuity through assessments and checklists.

Potential problems can arise in cases where employees don’t have the right equipment to respond to customers when the office isn’t accessible or when company data is not available from remote locations. Once these potential issues are identified, one will have a solid foundation for developing a plan of action.

Step 2 – Create a Disaster Preparedness Business Plan

Once the current level of business continuity has been evaluated, companies will be better equipped to create disaster preparedness plans. To create a plan, identify areas that are most critical to day-to-day business operations. From there, establish detailed procedures for identifying how processes will be handled during an emergency to ensure optimal efficiency and continuity.

In this plan, all areas of business that could potentially be affected should be considered to ensure all t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. For example, business leadership might want to consider an alternate operation location in the event that one office location becomes unusable. In addition, employees should be equipped with tools to access important documents and work streams from their homes or remote locations.

Step 3 – Include a Communications Strategy

For most businesses, ensuring communications continue is vital to business success, and having a solid communications strategy becomes even more critical in the event of a natural disaster. Alongside having a continuation plan in place, it’s important to ensure a communications strategy accompanies that plan. The last thing a business needs is additional chaos caused by an inability to communicate with staff.

That being said, an investment in the right technology can save a lot of headache down the road. Providing employees with laptops and cell phones seems like a necessity in today’s technology-savvy workforce. However, there are additional tools that can help make everyone’s jobs easier, and collaborative solutions that connect office phones and cell phones are a great start. Providing a video conferencing tool also allows employees to hold meetings in “virtual rooms,” making temporarily working remotely less of an adjustment. Even better, cloud-based solutions allow employees to access office tools anytime, anywhere.

Step 4 – Use the Cloud

Using a cloud-based storage system ensures company data will be safe and accessible no matter what happens at the physical point of operations. Cloud tools and services provide a much more secure way to store business information, with the added benefit of universal access for employees working off-site. This makes it much easier to ensure business can run as usual, whether or not employees can make it in to the office.

The financial consequences of being unable to access company data and applications in case of a disaster could be severe for the company. According to the annual Disaster Recovery Preparedness Benchmark Survey, more than 36 percent of companies reported having lost critical applications or data files for hours at a time this past year, and nearly one in five companies reported losing critical applications for several days. A loss of data would be even more disastrous. It’s important to find the right cloud solution for your business. There are many options, and most solutions can be altered to fit specific needs. By conducting research and establishing a comprehensive solution in advance of a natural disaster, companies can act smoothly and swiftly in the face of any crisis.

Step 5 – Share the Plan with Staff

According to research from the Disaster Recovery and Preparedness Council, a third of companies test their preparedness plans only once or twice a year. In contrast, about 23 percent of companies never test their plan, leaving three out of four companies at risk from not properly preparing for disaster recovery.

After creating a disaster preparedness plan, the most important step is actually testing that plan. In order for the plan to work, employees must know it exists and how to implement it in cases of emergencies. It would be beneficial to test the plan every quarter, or at least twice a year, to ensure things run smoothly and that everyone is aware of the plan. This also helps keep things fresh in employees’ minds and educate new staff on preparedness and emergency plans.

The overall benefits to having a plan in case of a natural disaster are numerous. It can prevent discord and save grief in the long run if everyone knows the drill. In addition, disaster preparedness plans can help companies stay up and running even if the physical office has to close, ensuring the business can operate and income continues to flow.

Crotty-BrianBrian Crotty is chief operating officer of Broadview Networks. Crotty has more than 15 years of senior management experience in the telecom industry. In his role with Broadview, he is responsible for all operational aspects of the company including sales, marketing, provisioning, billing, network operations, repair, field services, and customer service. Crotty obtained a bachelor's degree in business administration from St. Norbert College.