Be Ready for Anything: Business Continuity in Emergency and Disaster Situations

Photo Credit: iStock / Peshkova
Photo Credit: iStock / Peshkova

Emergencies can occur anywhere at any time, including the workplace. Our immediate concerns, as they should be, are to minimize loss of life and property. But business operations will be affected as well. What can employers do to get back up and running while minimizing the financial impact?

First, it is important to understand the circumstances that might create this type of situation. They may include physical damage to buildings, restricted access to a work site, damaged or broken-down machinery and equipment, or even an interruption in the supply chain with a supplier. Extended power outages or corruption in servers/computer equipment can also cause business disruption.

Employers should have a business continuity plan in place to address all potential emergency scenarios. As part of creating a plan, a business impact analysis provides employers the opportunity to identify critical operational functions and processes. Points to consider include lost and delayed sales and income, increased expenses, regulatory fines, contractual penalties or loss of contractual bonuses, customer dissatisfaction or defection, and delay of new business plans.

Employers should also establish a business continuity team and train individuals on the continuity plan and procedures to manage disruption. Training personnel helps clarify roles and responsibilities as well as reinforce knowledge of procedures, facilities, systems and equipment.

Employers should run drills and test the plan. This will help evaluate team members, reveal weaknesses and resource gaps, and raise awareness on emergency management and the business continuity plan.

Another issue is protecting large amounts of digital data in the event of disaster. The survival and operation of a business depends on it. Data loss or corruption from hardware failure, human error, hacking or malware can be catastrophic. Therefore, a data backup plan and a means for restoring electronic information are absolutely necessary.

Options for effective data backup may include tapes, cartridges or large-capacity USB drives with integrated software. However, the most cost-effective solution is often to use one of the many vendors that provide online data backup services including storage in the cloud. If cloud storage is not used, ensure backup tapes, drives and cartridges are stored at secure off-site location that will not be affected by a disaster at the primary business venue.

Once you select a storage method, back up data frequently. Many software applications are available to do this task automatically.

According to Ready.gov’s Business Continuity Plan Guide: “The ability to run both office productivity and enterprise software is critical. Therefore, recovery strategies for information technology should be developed so technology can be restored in time to meet the needs of the business. Manual workarounds should be part of the IT plan so business can continue while computer systems are being restored.”

After a disruption, many resources will be required to restore normal operation. These may include workers, office space, furniture, IT equipment, records, production facilities and machinery, inventory, raw materials, finished goods and goods in production, utilities, and third-party services. In most cases, all of the necessary resources can’t be replaced immediately, and often, insurance won’t cover all losses.

A business continuity plan should include recovery options to get business operations partially back up and running, which may still demand many resources. According to the Business Continuity Plan Guide: “Staff with in-depth knowledge of business functions and processes are in the best position to determine what will work. Possible alternatives should be explored and presented to management for approval and to decide how much to spend.”

Larger employers may be able to relocate operations to other properties or facilities. Businesses may also be moved to an alternate site. Cafeterias, conference rooms and training facilities can be converted into working space. Telecommuting can be an option in some cases, provided the data is backed up. Additional alternatives may include technology-equipped office trailers and replacement machinery/equipment. However, the availability and cost can be prohibitive. When large disasters strike, there is often heavy competition for such resources.

Having a public relations plan in place is a good idea. For example, a disaster involving an electrical fire while the contractor is on a job site will bring unwanted attention. Action will be needed to minimize negative exposure to that incident.

Being prepared for an emergency or disaster in the workplace and having a business continuity plan is fundamental to ensuring the ongoing success.

For more information, visit Ready.gov.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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