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    How to Create an Effective Disaster Recovery Plan for Your Business

    No matter where your business is located, there's always a possibility that inclement weather or some other catastrophic event could disrupt your business operations. Is your company prepared for this with an effective disaster recovery plan in place?

    So, how does one plan for an unexpected occurrence? Easy; plan as if it IS expected to happen. You can start by identifying one major component—potential risks. 

    While large corporations may have allotted funds for this type of planning, small businesses may have to assess their own risk. But, one thing is clear; big or small, it is crucial to create a disaster recoveryplan so that all employees, company-wide, are prepared should disaster strike. While taking the time to plan now won’t stop a disaster from happening, it mayminimize potential loss later, saving you time and money. In fact, every dollar you invest in a preparedness plan ahead of a disaster striking, can save your business $7 after the fact.

    So now that you know the importance of having a plan in place, you may be asking yourself where to begin. Defining key employees to ensure business continuity, identifying clients that may be affected should a disaster occur, and determining resources you need to stay afloat should be the first tasks in building a comprehensive plan for a very rainy day.

    Check out the following considerations as you begin to build your plan.

    1. Know your risks

    What are your potential risks? Does that sound like a loaded question? Each city, state, and region of the country has its own unique set of risks. Compile a list of possible disasters (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes) and place them in the order of likely occurrence in your area. You can also visit sites like Ready.gov to see what types of natural disasters to be aware of in your region.

    2. Create a disaster preparedness team

    Appointing leaders who can help other employees follow a plan is a necessity. Some items to keep in mind when building a team include gathering employees from all spectrums of your business. This will bring to light any vulnerability that your company may face should a disaster occur. Keep in mind that members of the disaster preparedness team do not need to be all senior management; in fact, it's probably better if they are not since senior management may be getting pulled a number of ways to resolve the issues at hand. The main requirement should be that the appointed team understands the plan, its significance, and has the tools and resources to take action when necessary.

    3. Analyze your critical business functions

    Critical business functions are those activities that are vital to your organization’s survival. Pinpointing these functions will allow you to get your company back on its feet faster. A good way to get a grasp on the impact of each business function is to categorize them in terms of importance to the viability of your organization; a simple labeling of low, medium, and high importance will designate which functions get tended to the fastest. 

    4. Plan for a backup facility

    How would your business operate if your primary work facility was unavailable immediately following a disaster? Do you have an alternative location for employees to report and work? Only about 41% of U.S. businesses are prepared with an alternative workspace facility that can be used to restore business operations within 24 hours of a disaster, far below the worldwide average. Could employees work from home? Would key equipment and supplies be on hand in order to conduct business as usual? These are the type of questions you need to ask yourself when considering alternative work locations.

    5. Backup your data

    This goes hand-in-hand with the previous step. Without your data, your company’s very survival could become an issue. According to the Boston Computing Network’s Data Loss Statistics, 60% of companies that lose their data will shut down within six months of the disaster. Backing up data shouldn’t be a one-off occurrence. This needs be something that is part of your weekly, if not daily, functions. If your servers were to be destroyed, what would you do?

    6. Develop a communication strategy

    In the time of a disaster, communication is critical--with your employees, vendors, and clients. Do you have an automated system to distribute messaging to all your employees simultaneously? Do employees have an expectation on how they'll be communicated with during a disaster? What vendors require ongoing communication during this time? And, what about reputation management? A communication strategy should be put in place to distribute messaging to the general public about what has occurred and how business will continue. One of the worst things you can do at a time of a disaster is lose contact with your clients, especially if they are geographically located in a region other than where the disaster is occurring. It's imperative that you keep them in the loop so that they are aware there’s a plan in place, and business will continue as usual. 

    7. Test, revise, and update

    Remember that your plan is never complete. Practice makes perfect, so test your plan by conducting trial runs. While some plans may need to be updated yearly, others may need to be updated more frequently. Make sure that you are proactively revising your plan as necessary and relay the changes to your employees.

    If disaster were to strike, could you afford to start over? There is no doubt that planning for a disaster takes a lot of work, but it would be far worse to clean up the mess (both physically and theoretically) after a disaster if you didn’t have a plan in place. By creating a plan for disaster, you are preparing for the future and increasing you company’s chances of surviving the aftermath. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

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    Norman L Paul, Jr., J.D.

    Norman L Paul, Jr., J.D. is CEO of SWBC PEO. He is responsible for overseeing the company’s professional employer services, including payroll, employee benefits and benefits administration, workers’ compensation, and HR support for more than 14,500 shared employees in Texas and 40 additional states. Norman also serves as Corporate Counsel for SWBC PEO, providing guidance on compliance issues and conducting client training.

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