As you may know, Christchurch was seriously affected by an earthquake a week ago. Under the circumstances, the response by the local and central government has been swift and effective. Within a few hours of the earthquake, search and rescue operations were under way, triage centres were set up, welfare centres opened later in the day, and so on. This was possible thanks to having disaster response plans in place, and in no small part thanks to the fact that Christchurch had a chance to put them in practice after the large earthquake last year.

A huge number of businesses were affected by the earthquake (power companies are just one example), and they also had to respond to this disaster. But it’s also important to understand that after the initial disruption a lot of them will still take months to see their facilities fully restored, even if they weren’t catastrophically damaged. This means that the normal ways of doing business may not be possible for a long time.

These events once again highlighted the importance of having not only disaster response, but also business continuity plans in place to allow the business to continue to operate after a natural disaster. It is particularly critical for larger businesses with multiple locations, complex infrastructure, large number of staff and complicated processes.

Keeping the business going is important not only for the business itself, but also because it may be providing essential services (like power or communications), and it’s providing livelihoods for its employees who could otherwise find themselves out of jobs on top of dealing with the aftermath of a disaster.

What needs to be done to develop these plans? The following 9 steps can serve as a starting point:

  1. Have a map of the enterprise with all branches, including full location details and staff details
  2. Know what lines of business (LOB) exist and where they are located
  3. Know what business functions each LOB performs and the ways they depend on each other
  4. Have a map of IT services linked to the branches per LOB/process/activity
  5. Know the normal ways of doing business at each location, including:
    • Business processes, activities and their business criticality
    • Communication services used (email, phone, fax, VOIP, online communication tools)
    • Business applications and tools used (software packages, spreadsheets etc.)
    • Local disaster recovery capability, if any
    • Disaster Response Team (who is in it and how they can be contacted when required)
    • Who is on duty (know it every day!)
  6. Have all the normal ways thoroughly documented and keep the documentation up-to-date
  7. Know and analyse your failure points (business/IT services)
  8. Know backup procedures and locations, as well as the process of restoring backups
  9. Have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) for each branch and headquarters, including:
    • Business processes and Activities
    • Communication services to be used
    • Manual workarounds and ways of keeping records
    • Emergency scripts for communication with customers
    • Business applications and tools to be used
    • Disaster recovery capability – when to trigger
    • Instructions to put untrained staff straight into action
    • Disaster Response Team - when to activate an action

Here is how the main components of the plan implementation and maintenance fit together:

Some tips for implementing effective disaster recovery and business continuity plans:

  1. Understand the business architecture of your enterprise
  2. Know the daily business routines and who is responsible for them
  3. Develop and maintain a service catalogue and CMDB
  4. Do a trial run of business continuity plans, both for practice and to make sure they will actually work
  5. Plan disaster recovery teams well ahead
  6. Reflect any changes to business context and automation systems (IT services) in the appropriate business continuity plans
  7. Use simple and clear steps in the form of “how-to’s” instead of alternative paths in flowcharts
  8. Develop straightforward instructions to help people overcome stress in case of emergency

If you liked this post, please share it!