How can businesses better prepare for a disaster?
Holmes E. Miller, Ph.D, Professor of Business at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA gave me a several good tips for business owners.
– Mitigate immediate damage.
When the disaster first occurs if no actions are taken the resulting damage might be worse than if one acts to lesson the impact. For a family, if a basement is flooding, taking valuable possessions off the floor and moving as much as they can to higher ground mitigates the water damage. For a business mitigating immediate damage might be mitigating physical damage such as closing natural gas lines that might explode, shutting down computer systems, or even contacting customers and telling them to hold off submitting transactions that might be unable to be processed.
– Assess damage to and availability of personnel, facilities, infrastructure and systems
After the event has occurred assess the status of various “systems” needed to operate. A recent Wall Journal Article said a firm had backed up its computer systems offsite, but then realized they had not backed up phone lines from customers until they assessed the situation. Customers thus could not call in because the one line to the main facility was inoperable. Also, are key people available? The disaster recovery plan might specify that certain individuals be around to operate a computer system but are they available? Assessing facility damage involves assessing how badly damaged buildings and machinery are.
Infrastructure assessment involves things external to the company that the company uses — for example, right now, gasoline is hard to find in NJ and NYC. Even if a firm has a fleet of trucks, is the external fuel available? Or if the trucks use a bridge, is the bridge open? And, as many firms are experiencing, is electrical power available?
– Prioritize critical operations to be resumed
Prioritizing critical operations means that not all things can be backed up and start running immediately. Some are more important (according to predetermined criteria) than others. Hopefully, this has been done before the disaster and is spelled out in the firm’s disaster recovery plan, but even this needs to be revisited. For example, a hospital might ensure an ICU is running and postpone administering optional MRIs. If resources are limited, which of the services can be offered immediately? Or, which customers can be served and which will have to wait?
– Marshal internal resources
This involves forming the disaster response team for the short term and for the long term, this is the recovery team. It involves personnel, necessary equipment and supplies, information, and if people are working offsite — transportation, food, etc.