How to Stay in Business When Disaster Strikes

Not only has B.C. survived intense storms, flooding and power outages this winter, but now we’re also overdue for a major earthquake. Which begs the question: how do you save your business when everything has been smashed, washed away or burned? A full-blown disaster-preparedness and business-continuity plan is a must, but in the meantime, here’s some food for thought.

Back it up

After B.C.’s December windstorms, local disaster-recovery consultants were swamped with calls from hysterical workers who had lost critical info after power and server outages. The lesson here: back up your files. If you’re a small company, you can simply burn important documents onto a CD or DVD. (Just make sure not to store it in or near the office.) If your budget allows, invest in a service to back up your files on a remote server. Sure, it’s another monthly expense (anywhere from $10 to more than $1,000), but the alternative could cost you your business.

Keep everyone covered

You might have a succession plan in place for your top execs, but what about the IT guy or the customer-service rep? Ensure that every role in your company can be covered by another staff member if need be. Make sure critical information isn’t just sitting in one person’s memory bank and document all-important procedures. If your super-efficient computer programmer has all the important passwords in her head, you’re hooped if anything should happen to her.

Site specific

If your office is reduced to a pile of rubble, you’ll need an alternate worksite. Data Base File Tech Group in Victoria, for example, will keep a disaster-proof office ready for you – for a hefty fee, of course. Alternatively, set up strategic alliances with hotels, business branches or competitors: they agree to help you out in an emergency, and vice versa. If you’re lucky, your staff can work from home, via phone and Internet if need be, as long as your systems are ready for such a scenario.

Get the right gadgets

No doubt cell phones are a reliable business tool, but what happens if the communication towers go down? Make sure that key people in your organization have laptops and BlackBerrys, and consider investing in a system such as the Wallace Incident Communicator, a BlackBerry-enabled business-continuity program that will allow everyone to keep in touch, access disaster plans and coordinate strategies, even if phones and Internet are out of commission.

LOOK OUT for number one

There is no business if there’s no one there to run it. So above all, take care of yourself. Don’t try to play the hero by driving toward a fire, entering a damaged building or jumping over downed power lines. Make sure you’ve got first-aid kits at work, in your car and at home, complete with survival blankets and flashlights, and instruct your staff to do the same. The sooner you know everyone’s safe (have them check in via phone or email), the sooner you’ll have your business up and running again.

SOURCES: Guy Robertson, president of Robertson Emergency Planning Inc.; Chuck Lovallo, president and CEO of CRI Network Inc.