How to Improve Disaster Preparedness

When it comes to business continuity preparedness, organizations should recall major events like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Northeast power blackout of 2003, or the San Francisco area earthquake in 1989, and ensure they are planning for an incident where the scope, duration, and impact may have been previously unimaginable.

Organizations should not take anything for granted and must make tough decisions about the assumptions their responses are built upon, while preparing for contingencies with a layered defense in order to elevate their level of readiness.

Companies and government organizations that follow these seven tips can improve their disaster preparedness.

Make your people the top priority. The physical safety and psychological well-being of employees should always be the first priority in an organization’s business continuity strategy. This preparedness includes clearly defining what precautions a business should take to move personnel out of harm’s way, what situations would signify the need to close down, and what people should do – and where they should go – if the business is disrupted. It also involves having crisis communications capabilities in place to help ensure a means to inform staff about the situation and their responsibilities, and to enable coordination of the organization’s responses to the event.

Help people be personally prepared. The more comfortable and prepared personnel are with their family situations during an emergency, the more likely they will be ready to help the business.  This means not only helping employees in the workplace but also helping them with guidance and information that enables them to prepare their homes and families. For employees who support time-critical response activities, an organization might even work with them directly or provide them with resources to ensure their personal and family preparedness.

Don’t wait – pre-stage what you can. If reports predict your organization is likely to be impacted by a weather-related event, don’t wait until the last 24 hours to take action. To minimize risk, assess the potential impacts and, where you can, proactively move personnel out of harm’s way, shift work processes to alternate locations, and move transportable assets in advance so they are already in place in a secondary location when the event occurs.  If you have an alternate location or services service provider, alert them as to the possible consequences in order to ensure that you are communicating and understand the process for enacting the alternate provisions you have when you really need them.

Take steps to have people ready to respond. Organizational readiness requires that staff be trained and ready to go in response to an incident. Companies should focus on communication, awareness and training.  A designated response team can conduct scenario-based exercises to help staff become effective and efficient in their emergency response roles. Organizations should be so well prepared they only need a business continuity plan for reference or as a guide, not as the playbook, when a disaster hits.

Re-examine and realign responsibilities. People and their roles change often in organizations. Review the staffing assumptions made during strategy development to determine if they are still valid. For example, if a company that has been downsized, individuals may have taken on additional duties, which could hinder their abilities to assume the added responsibility called for in a response plan.

Review your vendor list. Ask your vendors about their business continuity plans to learn their strengths and vulnerabilities. Your preparedness depends on their preparedness.  Look at the geographic diversity of your service providers to see if they have resources available outside an impacted area.

Don’t forget the customers you support. If your organization engages customers in transactional exchanges, review your customer management plan. Examine how your company will communicate its readiness, address potential concerns and constraints that could affect the customer relationship, and prepare for possible impacts of downtime or lost customer transactions.  This is particularly important if your organization serves customers on a national or global basis, where they won’t be directly impacted and may not anticipate a disaster’s impact on your support and services.


About the Author
William Hughes is the Director of Consulting Services Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Practice at the Center of Excellence at SunGard Availability Services. He may be reached at william.hughes@sungard.com