Business interruptions come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s a fire in a covered facility. Sometimes it’s a war in Ukraine. Other times it’s a cyber attack that takes down your network. In all these situations, you need an effective plan to reduce downtime. This article will guide you through the steps to create a robust business continuity plan and some common mistakes to avoid.

What Is Business Continuity Planning?

Business continuity planning is a proactive approach taken by organizations to identify potential risks and threats and develop strategies to minimize their impact on essential business functions. It involves creating a framework and processes that enable you to respond quickly and effectively to disruptions, ensuring critical operations continue with minimal downtime.

This process contains an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities to your operations. A hurricane can indeed shut down your facilities. So can a burglary attempt. So can a vehicle accident. As is the case with most risk management, the first step in the process is identifying the possible risks and weighing them out.

Once you identify the risks, the next step is to develop strategies and procedures to mitigate their impact. This may involve establishing redundant systems, backup and recovery solutions, alternative work locations, and ensuring the availability of critical resources. With these measures in place, you can minimize the disruption caused by unforeseen events and maintain your operations.

someone holding a pen and phone while writing in a planner

Importance of Business Continuity Planning

The importance of business continuity planning cannot be overstated. From my vantage point, experiencing a business interruption without a continuity plan is like stepping on stage to speak to a large group of people without a prepared speech.
Business continuity plans make your organization look prepared. They will help protect your reputation, all the stakeholders in the organization, and your competitive edge. By having a robust plan, you can mitigate financial losses, avoid legal and regulatory penalties, and take care of your people.

One of the key benefits of business continuity planning is reducing the impact of disruptions on your operations.

Example: You are a school with storm damage to your facility. However, you have lined up a secondary location, know the rent price, and know how to communicate the location change to all the parents and students, significantly reducing the impact on your organization.

When you have a business continuity plan, you ensure employees’ and customers’ safety and well-being by establishing communication channels, coordinating emergency response efforts, and providing access to essential resources. Violent events at schools are a perfect example. Having a practiced plan in place will help save lives.

Your plan should also help you comply with legal and regulatory requirements. Schools, Daycares, and Group homes adhere to specific zoning requirements. You can demonstrate your commitment to meeting these requirements and avoid legal or regulatory issues by having a comprehensive plan.

Investing time and resources into developing a robust plan ensures long-term sustainability and resilience in the face of unforeseen events.

a woman with brown hair and glasses, talking to a person in a yellow sweater in foreground

Steps to Create a Business Continuity Plan

1. Identify Key Business Areas and Functions.

The first step in creating a business continuity plan is identifying key business areas and functions, analyzing the organization’s operations, and determining which processes are critical for survival.

Example: For Non-Profits and Human Services, some of your key areas will include service areas, IT systems, and financial operations.

Understanding the interdependencies between various departments and functions makes it easier to prioritize resources and develop strategies to maintain continuity in the event of a disruption.

2. Analyze Potential Threats and Disruptions

Potential threats and disruptions may include natural disasters, power outages, cyber-attacks, pandemics, or any other event that can impact the organization’s ability to operate.
Not all threats impact the organization equally. Some happen frequently and have a low impact on the operations.

Example: A snowstorm may cause you to shut down operations for only a day. At the same time, a cyber breach that spreads all your clients’ personal information may devastate your organization.

Perform a thorough risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities and assess each threat’s likelihood and potential impact. You can then use this information to prioritize mitigation strategies and allocate resources effectively.

A non-exhaustive list of risks to consider may include the following:

1. Weather events
2. Civil disruption
3. Damage to facilities
4. Cyber event
5. Vehicle accident
6. Injury to key employees

3. Develop Continuity Strategies

After identifying the potential threats and disruptions, the next step is to develop continuity strategies that will minimize the impact of an event and ensure that critical operations can continue.

Continuity strategies may include implementing backup systems and redundant infrastructure, remote work policies, and establishing communication protocols. The goal is to have quick, flexible solutions that enable the organization to continue functioning.

Example: If your organization needs to follow stringent licensing and zoning requirements, you should have a backup location to continue operations in the case of an emergency. Establishing a backup site to continue operations can alleviate significant pressure in times of crisis.

two woman looking a a clipboard, standing in a room with office furniture.

4. Implement the Business Continuity Plan

Implementing a business continuity plan requires careful planning and coordination to ensure all employees’ active involvement and cooperation.
A plan only works if your team knows what is in it. Hold training sessions to help them familiarize themselves with the plan’s content.

Example: An Adult Daycare owner has every employee participate in a training session on what to do in a medical emergency. Time will be precious in a moment of crisis. During these training sessions, employees learn about the different phases of the business continuity plan, such as the initial response, recovery, and restoration. They also receive guidance on handling various scenarios, including power outages, natural disasters, cyber-attacks, and other potential disruptions.

5. Test and Update the Plan Regularly

No plan is perfect or lasts forever. Regular testing and updating are essential to identify weaknesses or gaps and make necessary adjustments before an unfortunate event occurs.
You need to conduct drills to simulate real-life scenarios. Practice allows your organization to assess the plan’s effectiveness and identify improvement areas. It also lets employees learn their roles and responsibilities, ensuring they know the plan’s execution.

Moreover, as the business landscape evolves and new threats emerge, it is crucial to update the plan accordingly. Regular reviews and updates ensure it remains relevant and aligned with the changing circumstances. You may need to incorporate new technologies, revise communication protocols, or incorporate lessons learned from previous incidents.

Example: I can still remember when my family had a landline phone with a cord. Today, I have a cell phone. My kid’s school has my cell phone number and understands that it is the best form of contact.

Regularly testing and updating the business continuity plan demonstrates your commitment to preparedness and ability to adapt to evolving risks. This proactive approach enhances your organization’s resilience and ensures its ability to respond to any disruption effectively.

two firefighters in yellow uniforms with their back to the camera.

Case Study: Foster Care Agency manages severe flooding and hurricanes

One of my clients is a foster care agency that places more than 1,000 children.
A terrible hurricane hit their state, and many foster families had to relocate to avoid the storm. The foster care agency had a rigorous business continuity plan in place. They had strategies to stay in touch with each family, including multiple forms of communication. They used cell phones, social media, and email where needed.
With 1,000 children spread throughout the state, they knew the location of each child through each moment of the storm. They were able to provide food and medical supplies where needed.
In one particular situation, a family was stranded by the storm. They had a child with specific food requirements and ran out of food. The organization was able to coordinate a helicopter delivery of food.

Common Mistakes in Business Continuity Planning

Lack of Regular Updates
An outdated plan that does not reflect the current organizational structure and operations can be ineffective during an event. It is essential to review and update the plan periodically to ensure its relevance and accuracy.

Neglecting Employee Training
A business continuity plan is only as effective as the people implementing it. Without proper training, employees may not be aware of their roles and responsibilities or how to respond during a crisis. Regular training sessions ensure all employees are familiar with the plan and equipped with the necessary skills.

In conclusion, creating a business continuity plan is a critical step in ensuring the resilience and sustainability of any organization. By understanding the key areas and functions, analyzing potential threats, and developing relevant strategies, businesses can minimize disruptions’ impact and continue delivering value to their stakeholders.

 

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