Disaster Recover Planning
The CATIC Disaster Readiness Challenge
A "disaster" is a sudden, calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a business or organization, which can cause human, material, and financial or environmental losses that exceed the business or organization's ability to cope using its normal resources.
The key to evaluating your readiness for a disaster is understanding how and where your business is vulnerable. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have realized that our businesses are vulnerable to costly interruptions when crises strike. At the time of this writing it has been estimated that roughly 60% of businesses do not have a fully drafted disaster recovery plan. This guide is intended to help you begin the process of drafting your own plan so that you are prepared for potential hazards.
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When employees cannot work in the office due to an unexpected event, they will still need to place and receive phone calls remotely. A key consideration is whether your phone system can forward calls from the office line to an employee’s personal phone, which will help to keep the call traffic flowing. Also, your clients should be able to leave a voicemail at any time on a phone system that continues to work even if your building loses power.
To operate your business uninterrupted through a disaster, staff will likely need to be able to access digital files from any location. Granting remote access to employees should be done only after security protocols, such as multifactor authentication and complex passwords, are put in place to protect your data from cybercrime. Another important consideration is to weigh the costs of an online storage system versus a local storage system, as this may be a limiting factor with the choices available to you. No matter which vendor you choose, ask if your service provider agreement includes a cloud-based backup in the event that your data is unintentionally deleted.
Consider providing remote access to the most common applications employees use to conduct business before a disaster dictates it. A good practice is to get the entire staff set up to work remotely, and then periodically choose a day to have everyone work remotely to verify access to critical applications. Typically, accessing internal applications requires either a Virtual Private Network (“VPN”) or, in the case of Microsoft Office 365, a simple internet connection. In both cases, an internet connection is a must. If an employee experiences an outage in their home as well as at the office due to a disaster, one solution you might consider is to equip employees with a mobile hot spot device that will provide the needed internet connection. Lastly, you may also benefit in a disaster scenario by moving any internal applications to a cloud-based service such as Azure or Amazon Web Services (“AWS”), just to name two of the many vendors in the space. This should keep the applications running if a disaster strikes your main office or wherever your servers are maintained. If you have purchased software that installs locally on an employee’s computer, you may want to consider contacting the software provider to see if they have a cloud-based offering instead.
It is important to be proactive with your approach to remote access and not wait for a disaster to dictate it. If a disaster strikes and cripples the resources in your office, it may already be too late at that point.
Being equipped to work remotely, at a minimum, requires a laptop computer, but you can also include helpful accessories such as a monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, etc.; whatever you deem necessary to continue operating your business in the event a disaster strikes should be considered a key item to provide to your staff. If they have been previously trained to work remotely, then it should be possible for your employees to keep working smoothly as long as their home has not also been adversely affected by the disaster. If your resources and budget do not currently allow you to purchase the items described above, there are many vendors who can lease the equipment you need at a reasonable cost. Moreover, it is important to plan ahead for a disaster rather than merely react when one occurs. During a time of crisis, hardware resources may become harder to obtain and shipping times can be dramatically lengthened. Make a plan to have your employees ready with the right equipment if a disaster strikes.
A great question to ask yourself in preparation for a disaster scenario is: how will your business function if 25%, 50%, or 75% of the staff are unable to work? It is important to consider identifying the point at which your business will not be able to function as normal, even if only for a short period of time. If you know what you will need ahead of time, it will become possible to be ready to meet that breakpoint when a disaster arises. Another consideration might be to explore firms, or other agents, with whom you could partner under a work-sharing agreement should your staff become unavailable or vice versa. Lastly, will staff that is able to work have the resources they need to perform each of their critical job functions—all the way from pens and paper to digital networks? It’s all on the table.
It’s still location, location, location. We have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that even during a disaster, in-person real estate closings are in high demand. One key consideration that could help your business continue to operate during other types of disasters is making sure that you have physical office space available so that employees and clients can meet and conduct business normally. Seek out back-up office space close to major infrastructure to increase the likelihood that you will have office space that has electricity and other utilities. If your back-up space is too close to your regular office space, it might be possible that both locations will suffer an outage due to the same event. Another question is whether the back-up facility has access to the technology resources needed to carry out a real estate transaction, such as a reliable WiFi connection, good cell phone reception, access to power outlets for laptops and other devices, etc. Other considerations might include whether the space is conducive to long-term service if returning to the regular office is delayed by weeks or months, and whether public transportation is available for employees and customers.
What are some of the additional key areas that you should consider?
Readiness/Preparedness Manager: Consider appointing an individual within your organization who is responsible for ensuring that you are capable of handling a disaster. Hold regularly scheduled meetings for all members of your organization to review and discuss the status of the items covered in this Challenge and anything else your team feels is necessary for business continuity. Assign specific areas of responsibility to other members of your organization as suggested below.
Human Resources/Payroll: In a remote working environment, employees will still need to access HR resources, which support business continuity across the enterprise. There are options available that will ensure secure online access to things like payroll information, time off, benefits, and goal setting, etc. Responsibility: HR Manager/Office Manager
IT security: It is critical to ensure that servers, laptops, and remote PCs are loaded with the latest security updates so that auto updates occur whenever possible. Consider reaching out to your IT service providers to confirm that all of your systems are up to date. Responsibility: Office Manager/inside or outside IT Manager
Banking services: Most banking institutions offer at least some key services online. It would be beneficial to ensure that your employees have online access from remote locations and are keeping their passwords updated regularly. Consider communicating with your banking representatives to confirm that any banking services needed to operate your daily business are accessible online. Responsibility: Office Manager/Finance Manager
Office Supplies/Postage/Overnight Delivery: All employees will likely need to have access to supplies (paper, printer toner, etc.) as well as postage and overnight delivery supplies and access in order to conduct business remotely. Responsibility: Office Manager
Website Maintenance: Communicate with your webmaster and hosting service to ensure that your website will be routinely maintained and all necessary updates and client notifications will be added as necessary. Responsibility: Office Manager/IT/Webmaster
Client Notifications and Status Updates: In a remote working environment, it will be very important to ensure that your client lists (emails, phone numbers, etc.) are updated and backed up consistently. Additionally, any such updated lists should be made available to your employees. One approach might be to ensure that template notification forms are available for email distribution and in a format that can be posted on your website. This will make it easier to keep your clients informed and communications across your organization flowing. Responsibility: Office Manager