Many organizations were unprepared when the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020. It became a mad dash to figure out how to adapt to new regulations and keep operations going, all while trying to keep your staff employed, and safe.
In hindsight, something that could have really helped organizations, schools, ministries, and businesses prepare for this would be to have had a business continuation plan in place. A business continuation plan is a critical tool to have in times like these.
So what is a business continuation plan?
A business continuation plan is a well thought out, comprehensive plan on how your organization will handle an emergency interruption of business, and how you will move forward after an interruption. It is vital to plan for how you will continue your operations in a variety of circumstances including pandemic or localized disease outbreak, a natural disaster, major property damage, or even just a simple power outage.
Where do I start?
Start by identifying the most vulnerable parts of your organization. This will vary for every business, ministry, school or non-profit, so take some time to figure out what those most vulnerable areas are for you. Once you identify those critical items, you can begin to think about how an interruption would affect each of those pieces, and what you would need to do in the case on an interruption, to keep your organization afloat.
The Six Major Sections of a Business Continuation Plan
Direction and Control
This is where you plan for “big picture” items in the event of an emergency interruption. Some things you might include in this section are, deciding who will be in charge of making important decisions in the event of an emergency, planning out overall team procedures, and determining where your “emergency operations center” will be, should you ever need one.
In this section, plan out your communication strategy for an emergency interruption. This includes things like, having a list of all your vendors, insurance agent, and clients, with contact information included. Also, you need to decide how you will notify your staff of a business interruption and appoint someone to be the person who sends out the notification. Make sure you also have your utility provider’s contact information easily accessible in the event of a power outage. Lastly, consider if there is any information that must stay confidential. Not all organizations will have to deal with this, but if you have access to sensitive information of any kind, think about how you would handle that as well.
Health and Safety
As an employer, your priority during an emergency business interruption should be the health and safety of your staff. In this section, make clear, and simple to understand plans on what employees are to do in case of emergency. For different types of interruptions, this will vary. For example, in the case of a major hurricane, you might need to have an evacuation plan in place to keep everyone safe. In the event of a fire, designate a specific spot for employees to meet up after they leave the building. In the event of a pandemic, establish a remote work plan (if possible), to ensure your staff stays healthy. Whatever these plans look like for your organization, having them in place before a disaster strikes, will bring much needed peace of mind for your organization’s leaders and employees.
Protecting your Property
In this section of your business continuation plan, decide what needs to be done to protect your building, and its contents (including important records), should you face an abrupt interruption of your operations. Some examples of assets you want to consider are your computer equipment, any proprietary or personal information that you would not want to lose, and your protection systems for fire, water damage, etc. It is also a good idea to have a full inventory of your organization’s property in case you experience a loss. Don’t forget to include the contact information for your insurance agent as well!
Your organization may want to reach out to other organizations in the community to prepare for disasters before they happen. One way this is done is through mutual agreements to help each other during an emergency. For instance, an organization in your community maybe be able to provide emergency storage for important equipment should you need it, and your organization may be able to provide their employees with a safe temporary work environment in return.
Local media connection should also be a consideration. When there is an emergency such as a disease outbreak, natural disaster, or widespread power outage, the local media is the primary way citizens stay up to date on the situation. Assign a point person to oversee all media contact with local outlets.
In this last section of your business continuation plan, you need to take time to map out what “returning to normal” looks like. Discuss what business functions are the priority to get back up and running, and which ones you can afford to wait a little longer. Are certain teams or departments more essential to return to the facility quicker? Which employees can work remotely in the meantime? What do the logistics look like for returning to your normal operations? Consider your timeline, and your goals for getting back to normal. Again, this will look different for every organization, so it’s important for organizational leaders to determine the factors apply to your operations.
We recommend that you review and make any necessary changes to your business continuation plan on an annual basis. After the year 2020, so many businesses, schools, ministries, and non-profits realized just how unprepared they were to adapt quickly to the pandemic and the interruptions that came with it. It’s an unfortunate fact that there will always be another disaster in the future. It’s just a matter of when, and what kind. This new year is the perfect opportunity to start off on the right foot to ensure that you are well-prepared for the next time your operations face an interruption. For more risk management content visit our blog!
Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive list, and your business continuation plan may need additional information in your business continuation plan. This article is not meant to be taken as legal advice, and is meant to only be used as a general guide and to help you get started on your plan.