What To Do When Disaster Strikes?


What is a Disaster? – A disaster in business terms is when a major incident or disruption occurs having some form of impact to your business, severely hampering effective communication and the ability to perform critical business operations. Examples are natural disasters such as the floods and cyclones Queensland experienced last summer or something like a power outage whereby you can’t operate your PC to send/receive those critical emails, or if there’s a flu epidemic and everyone needs to work from home. How do you cope if and when one of these disasters occurs?

Plan for the Unplanned The businesses that survive a disaster are the ones that have a business continuity plan (BCP). I don’t like to use the term disaster recovery plan because this usually occurs after an incident has happened. Surviving during a disaster and managing the situation at hand is the aim. Preparing and testing a BCP is the first major step and is something I urge all businesses to consider. It will help you to identify the business risks and, when needed, will help you to manage and minimise your exposure when a disaster happens. There are many resources on the topic; books, courses and the internet. Google “business continuity plan” for example.

Look at more resilient ways of communicating

One major area a BCP will identify is how you will communicate – to clients, staff and other major stakeholders. Common thinking is that just having a mobile phone or mobile broadband is sufficient if the office ever goes ‘Offline’. This can prove cumbersome and expensive. Imagine diverting inbound calls and making outbound calls with five or more staff’s mobiles over a one week period. Look outside the square and find new ways of staying connected. If you use a PABX phone system, get your service company to test the “Call Forward Not Reachable” feature – have this automatically setup as this saves time during a crisis. If you are in the market for a new phone system, look at the increasingly popular Hosted phone systems that are available – these are easy to use, cost effective, have redundancy built in and are not prone to risks associated with a traditional “in-house” phone system. Always check that the company is experienced and reputable in delivering this type of solution – the system they provide should be secure, highly available, offer good call quality with no drop outs and be able to be customised specific to your needs.

Can You operate Remotely? – If the disaster means you or your staff need to work remotely, such as from home, ensure that they have good access to the company data and are able to communicate effectively. I recently spoke to a firm that had implemented a BCP plan but forgot to cover adequate capacity of their IT – their systems went into meltdown mode when 30 staff tried to access it remotely, all at once. A review of their IT could have avoided this heart-ache. Finally, make sure you have a good fixed or wireless broadband connection from where you will be accessing the data and applications. There is nothing worse than having to work remotely at a snails pace due to poor connection speed.

Look at Outsourcing your IT systems

Usually the first thing that gets affected is your IT setup. This applies if you operate and keep your data/ documents in a traditional PC/server office environment. If you use a Notebook, this is great but find out where your data, such as documents, databases and emails is kept – this is what you’ll be looking for when disaster strikes. Look seriously at Cloud Computing, Co-Locating or Hosting your critical IT systems to an environment that can operate unaffected and independently of your normal office space. Also consider backing your data offsite and ensure that it’s accessible at all times. Seek the expert advice of your IT company or research the multitude of established and reputable hosting providers who can offer a Cloud or Hosted solution.

Ask yourself ‘What If’?

At the end of the day, the key thing to ask is what would happen and how would I be affected if I experienced a disaster? What if my PC dies, what if a lightning strike takes out the phone system, what if my copier turns into a robot and destroys the office? Treat Business Continuity the same way you treat insurance – it may not be used every day but when setup correctly, you’ll be glad you had your business covered in the first place.