What to Do When... Your Business Continuity Plan Has More Tricks Than Treats

Let's face it: Disasters, whether natural or man-made, are scary. Even if your company hasn't personally been spooked by a disaster, you've probably seen the horror that happens to businesses that have.

jack o'lanternSurprisingly, what some businesses fear more than the threat of a disaster is the thought of making a BC/DR plan. Because of this fear, some organizations choose to forgo planning altogether. Others, in a rush to complete their plans, end up with a document that has more tricks than treats. To help you face your fears, we have outlined some ghoulish tricks to avoid in BC/DR planning.

Your Plan Is Not Well Documented

If you have a BC/DR plan that is not properly documented, then you really don’t have a plan at all. Your records should include internal and external contact information, copies of vendor contracts, specifications for all your critical resources and a chain of command to establish who is in charge in the event that the main decision makers are unavailable.

The most crucial part of documentation to include in your BC/DR plan is step-by-step instructions on how to recover your operations. Lastly, your documentation should be printed out and safely stored off-site as well as accessible in the cloud.

Your Plan Is Outdated

An out-of-date BC/DR plan can be more harmful than helpful during a disruption due to its irrelevancy and ineffectiveness. Even a plan that is two or three years old may not reflect the current company environment. Employees, vendors and service providers can often change, and since they are all vital to business continuity, these changes should be updated in your BC/DR plan. Any new system or hardware configurations and new data backup and recovery technologies should be included as well.

To ensure that your BC/DR plan is continuously updated, assign ownership of the plan to an employee who is responsible for making sure that BC/DR planning is an ongoing process.

Your Employees Are Not Aware Of Your Plan

The average employee doesn't consider what affect a disaster would have on day-to-day procedures.  If you haven't informed your employees of your plan, they won't realize that everyone plays a role in the recovery process.

Inform employees about your BC/DR processes and procedures, and include training on what they should do in the event an interruption or disaster prevents them from working. Training should include printed instructions on how to report a business interruption.

Your Plan Does Not Include Employees’ Personal Needs

Disasters don't just affect your business. Employees are suffering from the impact as well. Their initial concerns will be the safety of their loved ones, their homes and themselves. If your recovery rests on one or two key employees being able to report to work as usual, you’re taking a huge risk.

Your business continuity plan should contain provisions for operating with a limited staff and provide employees with instructions for remote access.

Your Plan Has Not Been Sufficiently Tested

According to a survey by InformationWeek, only 40 percent of businesses have tested their BC/DR plan in the last 12 months. Assuming that your plan will work in the event of a disaster or interruption can put your business at risk; you don’t want to find out in the middle of a disaster that you plan is flawed or incomplete.

When testing, you should remove common comforts, such as electricity and communication technology, to give an accurate picture of the chaos a disaster can bring. If you’re using a third party BC/DR vendor, have them on hand to answer the technical questions that you and your employees are sure to have.

Having a successful BC/DR plan doesn’t have to be tricky. To learn more about how to treat your business with an effective plan, check out our Business Continuity Checklist

South Park Studios Hit by Common Business Continuity Disaster

History was made last Wednesday. For the first time ever, South Park Studios missed a deadline.

The producers of the show, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are notorious for cutting it close to the wire. They constantly tout the show's six-day turnaround time as a way to keep the show fresh and topical, but this week a common business disaster felled the five-time Emmy and multi-Tony award winners.

Parker and Stone with several Tony awards.
From LATimesBlog.
A statement from Comedy Central explains: "On Tuesday night, South Park Studios lost power. From animation to rendering to editing and sound, all of their computers were down for hours and they were unable to finish episode 1704, ‘Goth Kids 3: Dawn Of The Posers’ in time for air tonight."

Power outages are a common disaster for businesses in every field, not just major television studios. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, power outages costs businesses $100 billion a year. If you want to get a jump start on how to handle power outages from a business perspective, download our Power Outage Checklist.

Disaster Recovery Helpful Hints — Part 3

The previous helpful hints in this series addressed the significance of including employees in your BC/DR plan as well as how to analyze the risks everyday disasters pose to your business. In this post, we want to stress the importance of testing your business continuity plan in a real-world scenario.

Why Test? 

Your continuity plan is not simply a systematic recovery procedure on paper but a process that real people have to enact when faced with a business disruption. Businesses repeatedly hear that testing is without a doubt the best way to stay operational following a disaster; however, the majority of companies fail to take the time to do so. According to InformationWeek's 2013 survey, only 40 percent of organizations have tested their disaster recovery plans in the last 12 months.

If you fall into the category of businesses that have put testing on the back burner, we understand. Testing your plan in a real-world disaster scenario is no cakewalk. However, the reality is, you can't automatically assume a plan you haven't tested will work. Doing so might be dangerous, for both your staff and your business. The following are helpful hints on how to conduct a test in a real-world scenario, not a vacuum.

Don't Rely on Your Experienced Employees Alone

Your best employees won't always be at your disposal after a disaster, so it's important to include new employees as well as your go-to staff members in the testing process. Run what-if scenarios that affect each department and let all employees know who to contact and what to do in the event of an interruption. Afterwards, gather feedback to identify gaps in your plan or staff members who need further clarification on business continuity procedures.

Take Your Staff Out of Their Element

Conducting tests in an air-conditioned room where your employees have full access to the company network does not paint an accurate picture of how chaotic a disaster will be. To help your staff understand the reality of a disaster, remove common comforts such as electricity and chairs and cut off access to external and internal communications. Also, ask participants to consider how they would manage their personal recovery.

After walking your team through the recovery process, challenge them to run through the test on their own. You'll quickly identify which steps in the plan are unclear or incomplete.

Involve Your Vendor 

If you use a third-party BC/DR vendor, ask them to send a representative to help you conduct an annual test. During a live test, it's likely that your staff will have questions about the disaster recovery plan in general or the solutions specifically. It's ideal to have a representative on hand who is familiar with your recovery solutions to answer technical questions.

Check out our testing blogs for more tips on how to identify gaps in your plan.

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