What extreme weather can teach you about business continuity

Over the past couple of months, many parts of the world have been hit with a series of significant natural disasters. It got me thinking about business continuity and a leader’s role in ensuring that their people are safe and know what to do if they find themselves in a similar position.

In late 2016 South Australia was lashed with storms, and the effects went much further than the usual power outages. Some people were without power for a day, while others had to wait as much as three or four to have access to electricity! In a technology-dependent world, that means no internet, limited mobile communication and – in some cases due to flooding – people trapped at work.

So, how can you prepare your business for these situations?

Step one: Prevention

While many natural events are well out of people’s immediate control, they did reiterate the value of risk planning. One of the organisations I work with is a regional nursing home, and they had the challenge of trying to keep everything up and running with no power while keeping the medical concerns of their residents in mind. They knew the risks that came with losing power, so backup generators stepped in during the event. However, the situation escalated when flooding in the area meant they couldn’t get staff in or out. For a facility that has to operate 24/7, this presents major challenges.

Prevention is about mapping potential effects with the likelihood that an incident could feasibly occur, ensuring that the questions and considerations are mapped to the unique traits of your business. If you’re running an accountancy firm in the middle of the city and you lose power for half a day, sure there are financial costs, but you’ll likely simply shut the doors and send everyone home until power is restored. But what happens if that day becomes a week?

In the above example, the solution is nowhere near as straightforward, requiring alternative communication methods, backup power supplies and a set of processes to direct staff in these conditions.

Step 2: Preparing for unavoidable risk

There are a range of business insurance policies that can give you some degree of certainty in the event that your operations are interrupted or compromised, but it’s also important to think about possible backup solutions to support these.

This includes taking into account who is in the response team and what their responsibilities will be should something go wrong. For leaders of larger organisations, you’ll need to ensure employees know who they report to in these events and what their role will be.

More importantly, ensure the plan exists in digital and physical forms, with copies stored both on-site and off. If you lose power, a digital copy might not be much use. If there’s a flood or a fire, physical copies stored on-site could be damaged or inaccessible.

This plan has to include a communication plan that takes into account internal and external stakeholders and ensures every medium is covered.

In the recent events in South Australia, one business had some fairly serious misinformation spread and gain traction on social media which implied that many of their employees were in danger. While the business was able to shut the rumours down, the example should act as a significant warning to other organisations.

Step 3: Stress test your plan

The regional nursing home I mentioned above actually got through their ordeal in pretty good shape. They had a few employees sleep there and go above and beyond their usual call of duty, but they can now review their procedures, find out what went well, what they learnt and what they can do better should they find themselves in a similar position.

You’ve got to stress test your plans. For example, so many businesses are backing up their data to supporting servers, but how many are actually trying to boot up using these systems alone? There’s no point doing it if you’re not certain it will actually be able to fulfill its intended role.

On top of this, update the plans as time moves on. New staff, technology or regulations could all change the way your business reacts in one of these situations.

Finally, you’re not on your own. Most of the state government websites all have guidelines for how to create business continuity plans that can help you see a disaster through. By combining them with these three steps, you can tailor one to the risks your business is most likely to be exposed to.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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