September is National Preparedness Month. Emergencies can strike any business at any time, and the spectrum of disruption is huge. For instance, losing power for one working day is a big deal. But think about how losing power for a week or more following a major storm (see: Sandy) would affect your business.
Obviously there are no perfect plans for how to respond to an emergency. There are, however, five questions you can use to start an audit of your business' preparedness for an emergency. Use these questions to reveal opportunities for improvement to your emergency preparedness plan.
Probable hazards are the emergencies most likely to happen at your business. Categories for emergencies include accidental emergencies, natural disasters, and terrorism. The location of your business is tied to natural disasters (for example, earthquakes on the West Coast). The nature of your business is tied to accidental emergencies (for example, a chemical spill at an industrial plant). Terrorism and workplace violence, unfortunately, may affect any business, regardless of its nature or location.
A business impact analysis considers how a disruption would influence:
Each probable hazard affects functions and processes in a different way. Running through worst-case scenarios is eye opening, and starts conversations about emergency response plans, emergency communications, and general gaps in emergency preparedness.
The follow-up piece to a business impact analysis is a business continuity plan, a master plan that includes elements of a business impact analysis, recovery strategies and plan development, and testing and exercises for the emergency plan. Objectives for how to keep your business moving forward in the face of an emergency come from deep understanding of probable hazards and their impact.
Suppose one of your probable hazards strikes. Your default next steps should be laid out in an emergency response plan, and each probable hazard deserves a customized response.
Emergency management involves establishing a planning team; analyzing capabilities and hazards; developing a response plan; implementing the plan; and circling back for more review following implementation. Your response plan is a combination of having the right gear on hand (flashlights, weather radio, etc.) and having a set of planned actions.
If an emergency shuts down your operations, it's likely that you have lots of people who want to know when you'll be up and running again. Customers want to know if they'll be compensated for the delay. Employees want to know when they can go back to work. Government officials and news media want details about what happened.
A contact and information center can match the right answers the the right audience. For instance, HR should head up communications with employees, and sales should reach out to customers.
Computers and businesses today cannot be separated. It's likely that the loss of your software, hardware, and data would make getting back to work extremely difficult. A best practice in defending against an IT loss is setting up backup systems that operate regardless of a disruption.
An IT recovery plan lays out the order in which technology elements should be restored. It's important to set objectives when restoring IT. Objectives will help you prioritize work toward getting your technology back in business in the most efficient and time effective way possible.
These questions are a jumping-off point to better emergency preparedness. If you answered no to any of these questions, now is a good time to figure what work you need to put in to answer "Yes!" At minimum, you company's emergency preparedness plan must cover the protection of four Ps: people, property, the public, and perpetuation. The audit you perform now could stem heartaches, headaches, and hits to the wallet.