Disaster Recovery Plan – 3 Phases of Emergency Management

Considering the mammoth storm Sandy that has pounded the east coast,  it may be a good time to stop and think about how to plan, prepare and be ready to respond in the event of an emergency or disaster for your organization.  Imagine trying to run your business without a computer system, phones or even your current facility and you will realize the importance of planning.

A disaster can be defined as a natural disaster (flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake), an act of terrorism (9/11) or armed intruder (Columbine).  Each of these scenarios has their own unique issues but there are some common things that can and should be done to prepare.

Unfortunately, most emergencies or disasters happen without much warning.  Even those with some warning don’t allow enough time to come up with a disaster recovery plan.

So what is a disaster recovery plan?

It is a written plan for who, what, where, when and how to get your business back up and running following a disaster or emergency.  A disaster recovery plan manual can be as detailed as you’d like or as simple as thinking through some basic logistical first steps.  Obviously the more detailed your plan is, the less “thinking” you will need to do at a time when there is chaos and many logistical challenges that need to be addressed.  Imagine your business running without your computer systems, communication systems, employee support or a functioning facility.

This planning process requires a team that is representative of your senior leadership, information technology systems, telephone systems, employees and facilities management.

Once you have a plan in place, it is important to go through a “what if scenario” to test your plan.  Many organizations hold what they call disaster “drills” to test their plans and use the exercise to learn how to improve the plan.  It is amazing how different things look when you go through the process of implementing recovery steps.  I have worked with teams who have gone through these drills and cannot emphasize how valuable the experience is and well worth the time investment.

So what are some things you should be thinking about in the time of disaster?

There are typically three phases of any disaster or emergency.

1. First Response

In the first response phase, the initial need is to ensure safety and security of the facility and providing immediate help to possible victims. This can include life sustaining efforts, first aid, food, water and basic living essentials. This phase also includes being prepared to handle any media inquiries which would require having an articulate scripted spokesperson prepared to represent your organization.

2. Clean-up Phase

This includes cleanup of any damage and getting the facility prepared for employees and customers to reenter. In the case of an armed intruder, much thought should be placed on how employees will mentally prepare to return to work. This is also the phase where grief counseling may need to be explored.

3. Recovery Phase

The final recovery phase is getting the facility back in order and ready to reopen for business. Depending on the emergency or disaster, this may take a few days, weeks, or months. In the case of a long-term recovery process, it is critical to have an off-site command center where a leadership team can help facilitate the recovery process.

Disaster Recovery Plan Manual Should include:

  • Well thought out steps of action for each of the three phases of recovery.  This is where you identify the who, what, where, when and how.
  • Emergency contact information for: Employees, Vendors and Key Customers
  • Information system requirements for hardware, software and business data back up files
  • Telephone system layout
  • Diagrams of building layout
  • IT Network diagram
  • Call tree of leadership team – basically what is the chain-of-command, who gets notified first and who notifies whom

Once the manual is completed it should be one of several contents that should be placed in a disaster recovery box. This box should be kept at an off-site location.

Contents of the disaster recovery box should include:

  • Disaster Recovery Plan Manual
  • Employee Manual
  • Copies of insurance documents and policies
  • Hard drive with computer software
  • Backup files on all key business data
  • Employee contact information
  • Key customer and vendor contact information
  • Nametags for employees in case they need to be identified to cross into restricted areas.
  • Basic office supplies (paper, pens, tape, stapler, etc).

The box should be updated every six months to keep contents and contact information current.

There are some great resources available to help with your planning.  Ready.gov and FEMA can also be used to help you prepare your organization for unexpected emergencies.

Lastly, there will always be unpredictable aspects to any disaster but a little upfront planning can take a chaotic emergency situation and turn it into a smooth running recovery process.

photo by:   business insider