How to Prepare Your Business for a Disaster

A catastrophic earthquake will hit B.C. sooner or later without warning. Here’s how to prepare your business for certain disruption.

Earthquake Predparedness in the Office | BCBusiness
Thinking ahead can save your business from major trouble in the event of a crisis.

A catastrophic earthquake will hit B.C. sooner or later without warning. Here’s how to prepare your business for certain disruption

Business owners tend to have one of two reactions when it comes to disaster preparedness: inertia due to a full plate, or inertia due to playing the low odds. Either way, little is done according to Donna Childs, author of the book Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses.

When Childs started her own business in New York City in 1999, the term “business continuity plan” had barely entered the lexicon. But thanks to her unique background in disaster preparedness and risk management, Childs not only knew the term, but had a plan in place that kept her business up and running in the aftermath of 9/11.

Making a plan is something many businesses put off until “a near-death experience forces them to act,” says Eric Daly, a business continuity expert with the E. Daly Consulting Group Inc. in Vancouver. He suggests a different strategy: “Forget the word ‘disaster.’ This is really just about preparing your organization to deal with any disruptive event.” He says that regardless of the “why,” the fundamentals of a good plan won’t change.

Identify Risks

How would your business cope if you were displaced from your building, or if the office lost power? How long can you take to recover before your company suffers financial or other losses? Knowing which operations are critical and then brainstorming the risks lets businesses determine the minimum amount of resources needed to resume operations at a basic level.

Train Teams

Getting a business running after a disruption can be complex. Employees need to know in advance what tasks they are responsible for. In an earthquake, the first step may be training someone to cope with the crisis on an immediate human level. “There has to be a plan to get people out of the building and keep them safe,” says Daly. That person or team will likely be separate from the team focused on business recovery.

Business recovery is also separate from incident recovery. “While one team is reconnecting technology and keeping the business going, another may be securing a new work space or replacing equipment,” says Daly. But the employees’ skills need to match the task. “IT staff shouldn’t be distributing emergency supplies if they’re needed to restore a network.”

Tailor Your Plan

When Dimensions Data’s New York offices were hit by Hurricane Sandy, vice-president of IT Darren Augi says they were ready. “We’ve built an infrastructure that allows our employees to work from anywhere.” Key employees had been issued wi-fi devices for secondary Internet access, as well as portable generators and LED lights. Some employees were given hotel rooms near the data centre. Critical systems were also transferred to a data centre on the other side of the country, far away from the storm.

Test and Update

Childs recalls one company that never tested its recovery plan and discovered too late that its remote backups were defective. “The risk of not testing is you’ll fail to detect a flaw and undermine the preparedness effort,” she says.

Testing the plan also means assessing specific scenarios and looking at how a business will manage within the context of a larger crisis: Do you have food and water to sustain your employees? Can you reach your data storage centre if transportation is affected? Will information about your business still reach your employees if your cellular provider is down? Having answers to these questions now will save time—and dollars—later.