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Disaster Preparedness

Head-in-the-Sand Avoidance … or Responsible Action

A flashy convertible speeds down the interstate, its young driver thrilling to the wind whipping his hair, relishing the heady sense of daring and indestructibility. Probably each of us can remember that adolescent feeling of being invincible. Was it rational? Responsible? Reasonable? Of course not. It was an irresponsible adolescent denial of reality! As adults, we know better; we’ve learned a few things about reality, risk, and responsibility. Some small business owners, however, still cling to the notion that their businesses are somehow immune to normal business risks. Like the young driver, their head-in-the-sand attitude seems to be, “It can’t happen to me.”

The risks are real. Small businesses go under every day because a decision-maker chose to ignore the obligation to prepare for the unexpected. Consider, for instance, how you, as a small business owner, would respond to a disastrous event. Are you prepared to deal with a wildfire, terrorism, flooding, road outages that prevent you and your customers from accessing your business, a burglary, a chemical spill, malicious tampering, the inability of suppliers to deliver goods and services to your business, lightning, a bomb threat, prolonged loss of electricity or water supply, or loss of critical data files (such as customer or billing databases) due to computer failure or user error? Even the most innocuous-looking events can spell disaster for your business. This is especially true for small businesses that can be forced to close by an event that larger organizations would have considered merely a nuisance.

Once hit with a disaster or other emergency, seven out of ten small businesses never recover. “One of the lessons from [Hurricane] Floyd…is that business disruption can be caused as much by indirect impacts, such as road closures, loss of water and power supply, and the inability of suppliers to deliver goods and services to your business. Following Floyd, road closures had the most prolonged impacts on businesses, followed by loss of water and electric power.” (FEMA). Even the smallest of businesses needs to find a way to plan for any eventuality.

Once you have decided that you need to take action to protect your business, where do you start? If you were a Fortune 500 business, you could hire a Business Continuity expert or outsource that function to a highly-paid consultant. If you had plenty of extra time, you could study, conduct research, and eventually become a Business Continuity expert and handle that function yourself. A third alternative, the most reasonable one for small business owners, is to work with a company that specializes in providing emergency management planning services for small businesses.

This is where things can get tricky. If you don’t know much about emergency management planning, it’s hard to know just what to look for. In order to take the guesswork out of making this all-important decision, we’ve compiled a list of questions you might want to ask before you sign up with an emergency management planning service:

  1. How much experience do you have in the field of emergency management planning?
    You want to know that the company has experience and expertise in emergency management planning, a solid track record of satisfying customers, and the professional strength to “be there” for you when you need help.
  2. What kinds of disasters do your services cover?
    No plan can cover all types of services you might need in responding to a specific disaster. But a good emergency management plan covers information and services (such as critical data recovery, employees and their delegated responsibilities in emergency situations, plans for alternate work sites and equipment, contact information for suppliers, customers, etc.) that are applicable to almost any type of disaster. Some companies offer optional additional services to meet specific needs.
  3. How will you provide service that is customized for my small business?
    Be sure you are getting personalized service that will be specific to your needs, not just a cookie-cutter solution. For instance, does the company work with you to assess your unique needs? Does the emergency plan include preventative measures, emergency procedures, key contacts, hot-site (temporary office) options, data backup and recovery, critical business function recovery, and optional services-all specific to your business? Does it have a plan for identifying and safeguarding your critical business data-the vital data you would need to recover and access immediately in case of emergency or disaster?
  4. Does your service offer secure data backup?
    Is there a plan for a daily backup of your critical data? Ideally, this backup should be encrypted and stored at a secure remote location. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), the remote location should be at least 50 miles from your main location. We recommend that the service use a well-respected enterprise data storage facility, EMC for example, to store and safeguard your encrypted backup. The backup should include your vital applications, databases, software, and any other components you need to “stay alive” in the event of disaster.
  5. What about data recovery? How can I get to my backed-up data? How can I be sure nobody else can get to it?
    This is the critical data that you depend on to run your business, so you want to be sure that you can access it readily should the need arise. You should insist that you, personally, have access to your data, and that it is not available to anyone else without your consent. Look for a company that gives you password-protected access to your data anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from anywhere. You don’t know where you might be when a disaster hits.
  6. How much of my time will be required to maintain this level of disaster preparedness?
    This is an important question. Obviously the emergency plan must be kept current and accurate, or it will have no value when you need it; still, you don’t want to spend excessive amounts of your time keeping a plan up-to date.
  7. What if my entire operation is destroyed? What would you do for me?
    No company can provide for all possible contingencies; however some companies offer optional services that address emergency needs you may have that fall outside the normal range of services. Check out these services; they may include temporary staffing, locating and up fitting temporary office space, arranging for temporary utilities or Internet services, procurement of office equipment that has been destroyed, etc.
  8. What does it cost?
    The cost, of course, must be reasonable and affordable. In our experience, there is generally a one-time set-up fee ($200-$400) and an ongoing monthly service fee (typically $20-$25/mo). Check these fees and verify what each one covers.
  9. What is included in the price I pay?
    This will vary with different companies and with different pricing structures. We suggest that, at a minimum, you should expect these services:

    • Basic instruction on how you can prepare your small business for emergencies.
    • An emergency management plan.
    • A plan for backing up and recovering your critical data
    • A contact number to call in case of emergency.

    For about the same cost, some companies provide significantly broader services than others. Look for companies providing services such as detailed instructions on preparing your business for emergencies, risk assessment tools, emergency management plans that are specifically custom-designed for your business and are provided in both electronic and bound hardcopy formats, a mechanism to keep the emergency plan current, automated backup and restore software, free telephone consultation, “anytime/anywhere” access to your backup data, and a 24/ 7/ 365 emergency assistance hotline.

  10. How do I reach you if I have a question? Is there a charge for telephone consultation?
    The company should provide easy access to its customer service staff; ideally there should be no charge for consultation and free around-the-clock telephone access. After all, nobody schedules an emergency or a disaster.
    Once you investigate the costs and benefits of emergency planning services, we believe you won’t want to be without a disaster preparedness plan in place. After you have “done your homework” and have settled on a service you want to use don’t procrastinate or delay contacting the service provider. You’ll be able to sleep better at night, knowing that you have responsibly planned for dealing with emergency situations that could devastate your business. You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that-should a disaster occur-the plans are in place for recovering your vital business functions and providing the services you need to keep your business, and your livelihood, up and running during recovery.

By: Joana Bacon
Communications Manager
O’Shea Corporate Communications