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22 August 2014

5 Crisis Preparedness Steps You Can Take Right Now

by Jacquelyn Connelly

Your business may not be located near the coast, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to disasters. In fact, 70% of the recoveries Agility Recovery Solutions performs are for everyday snafus, not regional events.

Whether it’s a major earthquake or a ruptured toilet, is your business prepared to face the next crisis that could impact your ability to keep operating smoothly?

Believe it or not, it’s possible to take action now without trying to “go from zero to the Mercedes-Benz of recovery strategies,” said Bob Boyd, Agility president and CEO, during a recent webinar. Challenging all webinar attendees to implement or improve at least one element of disaster recovery planning today, Boyd said, “Whatever it is, don’t postpone it. It’s really easy to say we’ll do that beginning next year—it’s on our schedule. But it begins to grow moss. It gets old and moldy.”

If disaster preparedness feels like an overwhelming or foreign concept, here are five proactive steps you can take right now to increase your resiliency when disaster strikes.

1) Stock up. When you moved into your building, maybe you bought a First-Aid kit—then put it on the shelf and promptly forgot about it. “When’s the last time you stocked it?” Boyd asked. “Do you know who’s on medication?”

Emergency supply kits are equally important. “What happens if you walk up to the building this morning and there’s yellow tape and you can’t get in?” Boyd asked. “What do you wish you could have had with you? Contracts? Check stock? The notary seal you put on all your documents? Licensing software keys? Cash? Cell phone chargers? Flashlights? A backup copy of your data? Map it out and begin to collect this stuff in the back of your car or your safety deposit box.”

2) Train your people. Your employees are your biggest asset, so their safety should always be your top priority. Plan to take steps that will protect them, such as sending them home at 2 p.m. if you’re expecting bad weather to roll in later. “Don’t ask them to drive in an ice storm or come in on bad roads,” Boyd said. “Your organization doesn’t exist without those people.”

Even more important, prepare your staff effectively so they know what to expect during a crisis. Boyd cites CPR as an example—the procedure has “completely changed” since you learned it in school, he says. “Invite the Red Cross in,” Boyd suggests. “For very little money, they will show you [the new] hands-only CPR method.” Check to make sure your fire extinguishers work—“you’ll be surprised how few people in your office have ever actually fired a fire extinguisher or have even taken it off the wall,” Boyd said.

“People panic. You drill things so when the bad things happen, the training overcomes the panic—they know to go down the stairwells and meet out at the big maple tree or the dumpster,” Boyd said. “You’re doing it because you want them to be safe.”

3) Test your data backup. “My guess is if I did a poll question, 100% of you would say you back up our data and move on,” Boyd said. “But I’ve got 20,000 members all over the United States and we conduct hundreds of tests. They’ll try to reload their data onto a server and guess what happens? They weren’t backing up all the data. Or they thought they were going to upload it in 20 minutes when it really takes three weeks. Or maybe they’ve been using the same tape for four years—that tape gets stretched and corrupted.”

Bottom line? Your data backup process might not be as airtight as you thought. “If you haven’t looked at your data backup in a couple years, it’s time,” Boyd said. “There have been gigantic advances that can really answer a lot of these questions for you.”

4) Create a communications plan. Communications can be a challenge even in the best of times. “In a crisis, I promise you’re going to struggle with that even more,” Boyd said—especially considering many of the tools you would use for your normal communications strategies will be unavailable.

Check that your phone lists are complete, up to date and comprehensive, including backup contact information for all your employees, such as a personal email address or the cell phone number of a spouse.

“The day after the fire, earthquake, power outage, you might not have access to email, cell phones, landlines or your website,” Boyd said. “You want to have already thought through two or three or four other ways you can communicate with your key stakeholders. Have an alternate way to send out text messages and email messages. The more ways you have to communicate, that the better off you’re going to be.”

5) Join forces. Thinking of going it alone? Don’t. “Please don’t try to do this by yourself,” Boyd said. “It really does take a holistic approach. You may be the smartest person in your whole company, but if you go into a conference room and try to make a plan by yourself, you’re going to miss stuff. People in other departments probably have lots of great insights. They’re going to call B/S when B/S needs to be called.”

The best way to gain multiple perspectives is to establish a chairperson and include representation from key departments. Then hold a tabletop discussion. “Have a scenario,” Boyd suggested. “‘We had a fire last night—who knows what they’re going to do? Do people know how to get ahold of the bank? Who remembers the number for the insurance agent?’ Figure out what works and what doesn’t. Then you’ll be able to make it better.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.

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