5 Steps To Creating a Business Disaster Plan

Many company leaders hope they can operate for decades without encountering business disasters. That’s an understandable — but unfortunately unrealistic —  view. Many company catastrophes are outside of humans’ capabilities to prevent, such as natural disasters. In other cases, people can take proactive measures to safeguard against unwanted events like fires, cyberattacks, and robberies.

Instances also exist where the affected parties do everything right and still experience an issue’s detrimental effects. Even so, having a business disaster plan is an excellent way to reduce the adverse impacts and get the company back on track. Here are some smart steps to take.

1. Understand the Most Likely Risks and Related Mitigation or Response Measures

The first essential thing to do is to gauge how likely your company is to experience certain threats. For example, if your state has not experienced a major earthquake within the past five decades, you can most likely assume that you’re not in significant danger of one happening. On the other hand, if businesses in your community have recently experienced a sharp increase in robberies, it’s a good idea to take action so that yours isn’t next.

Conduct a Business Impact Analysis

As you might guess from its name, a business impact analysis (BIA) helps you understand what could happen if an issue disrupts your critical company operations. It usually consists of three related parts: Hazards, assets at risk, and impacts. The BIA also helps spotlight the vulnerabilities that make a company especially likely to experience severe consequences from a hazard.

Let’s take an explosion as an example hazard scrutinized during a BIA. The assets at risk include your people, building, merchandise and equipment. The impacts could range from injured people to a loss of trust from your stakeholders.

As far as vulnerabilities go, shortcomings such as failing to maintain equipment that uses explosive substances and not training employees to behave correctly around flammable materials are two areas you can address.

Consider the Most Appropriate Prevention and Mitigation Measures

The methods you take to safeguard against and lessen the effects of disasters vary based on an incident. However, it’s crucial to profile which steps you could engage in to cover your bases.

Take a robbery, for instance. If you maintain well-lit and tightly secured premises, those characteristics should deter would-be criminals. Regarding mitigation, you could implement a system whereby employees have no direct access to the places where a company stores large amounts of money. Another possibility is to limit the amount of cash on-site at any time. Many convenience stores take that approach, especially during late-night or early-morning hours.

There’s no single best way to prevent or limit the consequences of particular business risk. That’s why you may want to hire professional consultants after pinpointing the most significant threats to your company. Those people can advise you on best practices and assess how well you’re doing now before any further risk management action occurs. It’s not always easy to spot weaknesses without an outside perspective.

2. Assign a Leader To Oversee Plan Execution

Your company’s disaster plan should include materials that help people promptly get in touch with the correct parties and take the most effective actions. For example, one excellent tip is to appoint a person to lead the disaster plan’s efforts when necessary.

It’s true that getting a company through an emergency often requires efforts from everyone at the business. However, the designated leader can ensure that the responsible parties perform the right roles.

For example, a front desk receptionist might need to repeatedly inform callers that the company has no information about a situation immediately but that people can expect updates as often as possible. Suppose an impending winter storm forces the temporary shutdown of part of a factory. The manager of that facility may be the one who powers down machines and does everything else necessary to prepare for the short-term closure.

Produce Checklists To Help People Act With Confidence

Think about creating checklists and other helpful resources for each person or department that helps put a plan into action. For example, the manager on duty during an active-shooter incident would call 911 first. After the worst of the danger passes, they’d likely also contact the company’s security provider to increase protection. Giving them the phone number to do that within a checklist or written plan reduces the time they spend searching for the necessary details.

3. Examine Ways To Reduce Workplace Risks

The disaster plan for your business should also cover the ways employees or infrastructure can cut down on risks in the environment that make a disaster more likely to happen. Some, but not all, of these strategies involve behavioral coaching. Moreover, some workplace threats relate to the building itself.

Investigate Products That Monitor or Cut Risks

Perhaps your business previously dealt with a burst pipe or an incident where a person accidentally left a faucet running all weekend and caused a flood. If so, your business disaster plan might partially concern investing in items that help leaders stay on top of risks.

For example, connected sensors exist that can detect excessive water. They give real-time alerts to the relevant parties, helping those individuals act before a major flood happens. Security companies also sell products that let people remotely lock doors or change access codes. Those could prove exceptionally beneficial for stopping an intruder from causing extensive damage and losses.

Help Workers Recognize Behaviors That Contribute To Disasters

Many people don’t immediately realize that simple preventive measures go a long way in stopping or mitigating catastrophic incidents. For example, cooking accounts for the top cause of commercial fires. Leaving a meal unattended to cook in the microwave or on a stove in the break room could cause a fire.  Installing fire extinguishers and posting signs that remind people to watch their food as it cooks could avoid disasters.

It’s also important that employees understand the straightforward things they can do to avoid making a business a prime target for an attack or robbery. For example, ensuring that a person pulls their window shades down before leaving means that a ground-floor office shouldn’t become a prime target for someone eager to break in and steal computers or other high-value equipment. That’s because criminals can’t see the items inside the building.

4. Plan Regular Employee Training Sessions

Employee education is crucial for helping workers understand how they keep disasters to a minimum. Training should relate to your biggest risks, as well as an emergency response plan itself.

Target the Most Relevant Topics

Similar to how you assess which disasters your company would most likely encounter, structure your worker training program so that people get content that’ll help them respond correctly at the moment. Providing people with the information they’ll most likely need will help them stay engaged.

It’s also worthwhile to get employee input on the learning topics they’d find most valuable. Maybe a worker recently dealt with a gas leak at home and worries that something similar could happen at the office. Perhaps someone almost got tricked by a phishing email and feels the tips they used to spot the scam could benefit the workforce.

Plan Mock Disaster Plan Tests

It’s virtually impossible to confirm that your disaster plan works as it should without trying it. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for an urgent situation before doing that.

Set aside time to run through your disaster framework in simulated situations. Have employees act as if a particular emergency is happening now, then watch how they respond. Take note of any mistakes or times of confusion. Those events may provide further coaching opportunities.

5. Keep Your Disaster Documentation Updated

A disaster plan is not a document you write once. A best practice is to review it at least annually and update it as needed. Additionally, specific events typically warrant making substantial changes to an existing plan. They include:

  • Business relocation
  • Leadership changes
  • Switching service providers
  • Company expansions

That’s not an extensive list, but it gives you some food for thought. For example, maybe your company entered into an agreement with a new cloud computing provider. If so, that change affects the business that gets contacted after a website hack. Alternatively, when your business moves to another part of the country, that change could put it at an elevated risk of severe weather that was not problematic in the other location.

Employee feedback may also illuminate the need for alterations. After you do a trial run of a disaster plan, a worker might approach you and suggest they handle a particular responsibility rather than the person currently assigned to it.

A Thorough Plan Minimizes Adverse Outcomes

You can’t expect to anticipate all the threats your business might face. However, tackling the most pressing ones in a disaster response plan is a fantastic way to help your business get through challenging circumstances with as few undesirable effects as possible.

Humans commonly panic in unfamiliar, unsetting situations. Disasters can easily create them. However, when employees can refer to all-encompassing plans that tell them what to do under pressure, they’ll have the resources needed to help your business weather a literal or figurative storm.

About the author

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Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a digital marketing agency before becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and pup, Bear.

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