With most of your energy directed at building and growing your business, you may be overlooking a critical preventative measure to ensure its ongoing livelihood: disaster preparedness. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an estimated 25% of businesses don't open again after a major disaster.
When you hear "major disaster," you probably conjure up images of hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, and other devastating works of Mother Nature. While those are indeed disasters worth preparing for (and they have existing guides and checklists you can use to do so), you should also consider disasters of a more manmade variety.
As an example, a business in another building in the same office park as our company recently had an overnight server fire. Their usually-full parking lot was empty for nearly a month as they undoubtedly were forced to work in alternate conditions as the building was repaired, inspected, and finally cleared for occupancy.
While it's hard to anticipate every disaster that might hit you, there are some steps you can take that will protect your business from massive operational interruption or loss of assets. Here are four areas to consider.
Develop a Disaster Recovery Plan
Assign an internal task force to create a disaster recovery plan to ultimately be shared company-wide. Assume your office is destroyed. How would you maintain service, billing, and sales? How would your team communicate? Where would you operate - out of a temporary work space, or with everyone remote? How will you reach your staff? Who is responsible for notifications and instructions in case of such an emergency?
Once this plan is developed, don't make the mistake of just storing it on your server. There's a fair chance you won't be able to retrieve it immediately in the case of a major disaster. Have printed copies produced and ask key disaster task force members to keep those hard copies offsite for backup should they need to act on the plan recommendations.
Have a Communication Plan
In addition to having your employees' cell phone or home contact information, record their emergency contact information and incorporate that into your disaster recovery plan. Individual departments or teams should consider who they might need to notify (vendors, suppliers, partners, clients, and so on) in the case of an emergency and have a plan to manage that communication.
Additionally, determine who will own developing the external message related to the disaster or closure, so everyone involved knows who to turn to in the interest of consistent and controlled messaging.
Confirm and Test Remote Work Setup
Many businesses can run completely remotely, while some (think manufacturing) will struggle if displaced from their core location. Think through the core functions in your business and determine how they might work from a remote location if necessary. Then test, test, test to make sure the plan works under a number of variables. Can office phone lines be forwarded to individual cell phones? Can employees access data on servers remotely and securely? Can meetings be done with virtual platforms like Zoom? Take a walk down imagination road and envision the worst-case scenario, then work through the obstacles you uncover along the way.
Many businesses back up data through either local hard drives or cloud storage, but often not both. It's worth considering the implications of your hard drive falling victim to fire or flood, but also the implications of your cloud backup being offline for an extended period (potentially necessitating an alternate backup plan). Confirm that your backup timing and methods are sufficient to allow your business to quickly restore access to critical data necessary for core functions. Confirm the integrity of your backup files regularly.
It can be tempting to brush this type of planning off as the type of thing that will surely never happen to you, at least until the business up the road catches fire and you realize it could have just as easily been yours. Take the time to plan ahead, and pull in experts like your insurance agent to review and advise on your plan. It may make all the difference in your chances of surviving a disaster.