Many business owners never expect to have to deal with a disaster — until it strikes.
They’re then left wondering how their business can ever recover.
These days, a natural or man-made disaster can strike anytime and cause serious, long-lasting damage to a business if the right provisions have not been put in place beforehand. Even the largest and strongest companies are not immune to human error, machine error, a network security breach, terrorist incident or an unpredictable natural disaster.
If you’re running a company with large amounts of stored data, and where access to that data is mission critical, the impact on your business of a loss of communications systems can be nothing short of a calamity.
The speed with which data communications systems come back online can determine the long-term survival of your business, so it’s advisable to safeguard your business from the unexpected effects of a disaster with a sound disaster recovery plan.
Whether you’re creating one from scratch or improving an existing plan, our advice is to factor in the following considerations.
1. Set your priorities
The main goal after a disaster (once you’ve established your employees and their families are safe and sound) is to get your business up and running in the fastest time possible.
While you may not be able to restore all functions right away, your disaster recovery plan should identify the priority elements which should be restored first to get things up and running again. Depending on the complexity and nature of your business you may want to develop a sequence or script to follow once you get into recovery mode, in order to make the process as efficient as it can be in the circumstances.
Create a priority list of technologies, processes, departments and key areas that are most important in dealing with your customers. For instance, it could be vitally important to restore your communications channels to answer enquiries from customers and to contact employees.
2. Establish reliable supplier relationships
When disaster hits you need to know that you have suppliers and partners you can rely on during your recovery efforts. For example, partner with a dependable IT support provider who can help you restore your business data fast, including from a secondary or backup workplace location if your office has been affected by the disaster.
When choosing a supplier or service provider, make sure to ask about their disaster recovery services so you can incorporate them into your own plan. It’s also wise to use a supplier who can offer engineers to help you recover your systems at short notice during the early phases.
3. Put your A-team together
In the event of a disaster event, you will need an identified team of key employees who can come together to restore your operations.
Put together your disaster recovery team in advance and allocate responsibilities for handling the different areas of your business. Include your list of named individuals in your disaster recovery plan.
These individuals should know and understand their roles and responsibilities in the event of a disaster, including the job of contacting other employees and leading them in the recovery process. It’s also important to have backups in case these coordinators cannot be contacted immediately and to set out the line management reporting structure to maintain efficiency.
4. Identify essential equipment
Apart from your employees, you will need fast access to essential equipment and supplies to restore business functions after a disaster.
Create a list of computers, tools, supplies and equipment that you will require during each phase of your recovery and identify how you will source them if your own resources have been destroyed by the disaster.
If you have a secondary site or a back-up network, ensure you include a network guide or diagram, and if you need staff to go physically to the back-up site, ensure they have directions to get there.
5. Set your restoration timescales
If you’re going to achieve your goal of getting your business operational again as early as possible after a disaster, it’s very important to set the expected timeframes and milestones for full restoration of servers, facilities, networks, computer systems and other critical areas that will fuel your operations.
You should review the timescales regularly with your service providers, employees and partners, so everyone is on the same page and you can rely on getting the support you will need – when you need it.
6. Invest in the right disaster recovery technology and processes
Disaster recovery these days, while never seamless and straightforward, is a great deal less complex than it was even a few years ago, due to the myriad new technologies available to help secure data and ensure continuity.
A great example of this is cloud technology, which enables businesses to store and access important business data anywhere and everywhere.
Using cloud technologies, businesses can practice disaster recovery scenarios. By developing drills for disaster-related IT failures and the ways to mitigate them, businesses can ensure that – in the event of a real disaster – IT operations can be recovered and re-instated quickly.
7. Earmark funds for disaster recovery
Inevitably, cashflow is likely to be hit hard after a disaster, which is why it’s very important to have a sound financial plan in place as part of a disaster recovery plan.
IT resources may need to be made available fast in the event of a disaster, so understanding the scale and nature of the potential hardware, networking and software expenses that will be required is a must for all organisations concerned about continuity planning.
For this reason it’s vital that you have quick access to funds and finance resources.
8. Create a sound communication plan
After a disaster, you will need to communicate with your employees constantly to update them of your recovery efforts.
As well as assigning coordinators as points of contact, lines and chains of communication need to be set up and tested regularly to ensure they work. The communications chain must be updated regularly to account for staff changes.
Mobile phone numbers and/or emails must be kept up to date and other backup lines of communication should be identified, as one missing link in the chain could bring the plan down.
Once the communication plan is in place, it should be published and employees made aware (regularly) so they know what to do.
9. Test, test and test again
The key – once you’ve committed your disaster recovery plan to writing – is to drill, test, check and update your plan regularly in order to:
- Identify any loopholes that could affect recovery efforts – and address them right away
- Gauge the effectiveness of your disaster recovery plan
- Ensure your employees remain aware of what to do if you are hit by a disaster
- Check the accuracy and currency of communication trees and contact information
Make sure to conduct a team review of the disaster recovery plan at least once a year (ideally more regularly) to familiarise staff with what they should do. They need to know the steps to take, procedures to follow and location of critical resources and data.
10. Expect the unexpected
Whether caused by nature or humans, preparation is always key to recovering from a disaster.
However, despite all the preparation in the world, it’s unlikely that your disaster recovery will run like clockwork.
Therefore build in room for ‘what if’ planning and secondary back-ups.
After all, your whole disaster recovery plan itself is based on a ‘what if’ scenario.
If you don’t currently have business continuity plans and systems in place, contact Alliance Solutions about creating a full disaster recovery plan. Contact us on 0800 292 2100.