Preparing for the Worst: Disaster Planning

Given the daily pressures that come with running a business, planning for an event that hasnít yet happened may not seem to be a priority. But by preparing for a major disaster, your company will also be in a better position to cope with more common disruptions, such as power outages or computer breakdowns. While every organizationís needs will be different, here are some general steps you can take to prepare for the unexpected:

Draw up a step-by-step disaster response and recovery plan for your business. Consider which essential functions of your organization would be most vulnerable in a crisis, and investigate what steps can be taken to minimize exposure to these threats. Appoint key people to take charge in an emergency, and make sure these employees have the information and authority they need to handle the crisis. Draw up a set of office or facilities evacuation procedures, and establish a designated meeting place outside the building. Ideally, senior management should be involved in drawing up the plan and approving all measures.

Back up data on a daily basis using a tape backup or other replication system. Critical data should be copied onto tape or discs and stored offsite. Avoid keeping these backup tapes in the office, as they could be rendered useless if the building burns or is flooded. In addition to legal documents, all administrative data vital to the functioning of the business should be stored in this system, including billing and cash flow records, customer and employee contact details, insurance information, and appointment calendars. Test your backup system periodically to ensure its effectiveness.

Invest in power protection systems. Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems provide emergency battery power to shut down a network in an orderly fashion when the electricity fails, preventing damage to computers and the loss of valuable data. Surge protectors and line conditioners protect computer equipment against spikes in electrical current.

Plan to set up your operations in an alternate location. Having your data safely stored and retrievable will be of little immediate use to your business if equipment is destroyed or the office becomes uninhabitable. Consider locations where you could set up shop in the event of a major breakdown, such as a branch office or the office of another business in your community.

Burn copies of licensed software and store them offsite. To protect your access to purchased software, create CD or DVD copies of software programs and store them, along with the licensing information, outside the office. This will allow you to install the software quickly and easily on another computer.

Invest in up-to-date security software. Shield your computer network with firewalls designed to create a protective barrier between your organizationís network and the Internet. Available as either software or hardware, firewalls can stop potential hackers from gaining access to confidential information stored in your system. Antivirus and anti-spyware software packages should also be installed on all computers. These programs should include automatic updates and should never be disabled. As an extra precaution, remind staff not to open e-mail from unfamiliar addresses.

Keep insurance policies current and make records of insured items. Even a smaller business needs a package of insurance policies, which may include property insurance, contents insurance, key person insurance, disability coverage, and business interruption insurance. To avoid unnecessary conflicts with insurance companies when making claims, store detailed information about furniture and equipment, including purchase prices and serial numbers.

Once preventive measures have been taken and a plan has been drawn up, publicize evacuation and other emergency procedures within the company. Depending on the length of the plan, you may want to distribute information about the procedures in a memo or as a manual. You may also want to post a summary of the plan in a common area and arrange group sessions to explain the details of the plan and answer questions.

Resuming normal operations as soon as possible following a disaster is the goal of all continuity planning measures. By taking the appropriate steps now, you can protect your business from significant property losses and ensure that your company will be able quickly resume service to customers, even in the wake of a major disruption to operations.



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