How a business continuity plan prepares you for emergencies

business continuity planMost businesses are prepared for a range of emergencies. Whether it’s an earthquake, a cyber attack or a fire – emergency response plans give detailed advice on how to proceed during any kind of disaster and how to keep yourself, your staff and anyone else on the premises safe.

However, what happens after the initial threat is gone? How well is your business prepared for the aftershock? Would you be able to survive a prolonged downtime financially and how quickly would you be able to return to business as usual? Having a business continuity plan will help you through difficult times and ensure that disruptions are short-lived and with minimal impact.

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Why should you plan ahead?

While there is no legal requirement to implement continuity planning, there are many reasons why it is definitely worth your time and effort. The better your business is prepared for all eventualities, the more resilient it becomes to potential threats including natural disasters, supply chain issues or a global recession.

Especially small businesses often struggle to survive after being hit by the unexpected, whether it’s a fire or a flood, a lawsuit or major incidents such as prolonged lockdowns during the current Covid pandemic.

Being prepared can also give you:

  • Reassurance – your staff as well as your customers, clients and potential buyers and investors will feel more confident that they are looked after if anything happens.
  • Potential growth – thinking outside the box can open up new possibilities and opportunities for growth, e.g. by outsourcing certain tasks or introducing home office.
  • Lower premiums – insurance companies may offer you lower premiums if you can prove your resilience.

What should you prepare for?

The most common scenarios for businesses in New Zealand with potential risks are:

  • Natural disasters including fires, earthquakes, flooding and power outages
  • Cyberattacks
  • Economic crisis
  • Bankruptcy or issues with credit history or cash flow
  • Legal disputes, government regulations and licencing issues
  • Workplace accidents
  • Public health threats such as Covid
  • Technology failures or system crashes

What is a business continuity plan?

Unlike a civil defense or emergency response plan, a business continuity plan doesn’t deal with whatever incident is interrupting your business. Instead, it can be seen as your Plan B, a guideline for when things happen that are out of your control to ensure that your business continues to run as smoothly as possible.

A typical business continuity plan consists of several stages and should be updated regularly to reflect the current environment you are operating in.

Inventory

To begin with, gather information about the following:

  • Key products and services – which ones are essential or most profitable and which ones could you do without?
  • Key staff – how you could replace important team members if necessary, even at short notice? How can you support staff and their families during a crisis? Who is in charge if something happens to you?
  • Key connections – where are the biggest risks for your supply chains, service providers and customers?
  • Location – can you operate from an alternative work site in case you have to vacate your business premises?
  • Insurance – what incidents does your current insurer cover?
  • Documentation – is your emergency contact list up to date and who has access? Where is important data backed up including client details, sensitive business data, bank details etc?
  • Online security – are the web services you use (including your company website) kept secure and backed up regularly? Ask us about our website security service!

Analysis

Looking at your inventory, analyze each area in regards to potential threats and which impact those threats would have on your business operations. What would happen if you had to shut down for a month? How would a data breach affect your business?

Solution proposals

Once you have noted down where your business would be most vulnerable, rate each possible incident according to the likelihood for it to ever happen. Do you operate in a coastal area that is prone to flooding or do you frequently experience earthquakes? Are you more likely to be hit by a major power outage or a cyberattack? Whatever area your business would suffer at most, create backup solutions for each scenario.

The main things to consider are:

  • Command structure – who is in charge during the crisis and who reports to whom?
  • Communication – how will you communicate with staff, suppliers and customers especially if there are multiple alternative worksites?
  • Data – who needs access to which data during a crisis and how can you ensure remote access is working?
  • Location – if you need to operate from one or multiple locations including home office, how can you ensure everyone has the necessary applications, devices and work space to fulfill their role?

Create a list of potential solutions and write up detailed actions of how to put them into practice. Getting feedback from staff and other stakeholders will help you fill the gaps and ensure that you have taken all potential risks into account and found ways to manage them.

Implementation and testing

In order to make sure that your business continuity plan is current and working, all relevant staff should be aware of it and receive appropriate training according to their roles. The plan should also be tested with key people at least once a year, if not quarterly. This can be done by running short or more in-depth scenarios in which your team has to focus on managing the consequences of whatever has disrupted your everyday business activity.

Maintenance

Your business is constantly changing and evolving and you need to adjust your continuity planning accordingly. By changing the aforementioned scenarios and taking time for a full debrief afterwards, you can identify points in your plan that need changing, updating or can be deleted. Make sure that all staff members are aware of your plan and can easily access it to familiarize themselves with possible risks and how to deal with them appropriately.

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