When the Lights Go Out 


Tips on writing a business continuity/disaster recover plan that will keep your business alive 

Disasters...what usually comes to mind are hurricanes, blackouts, and massive computer hacker attacks. True, they can clobber your business by demolishing your building or destroying your data. However, smaller disasters can wreck just as much havoc. You can lose not only time and money but also your customers!

Disasters that bring your business to a halt usually cannot be avoided. However, they can be planned for, and instructions for continuation and recovery written down. It is the latter, writing down the instructions, that is as important as the planning.

As a writer it always irks me how “word of mouth” is the operative term when disaster strikes. During this Summer’s heat wave, I and 30 other individuals were sent home due to the elevators failing in the building. The game plan was to have a telephone chain next morning to call people and let them know whether we’d be open for business. No written plan, no list of who would call whom, so I received 2 calls saying come in, and some people weren’t called at all! Got me wondering if this company had any other kind of recovery plan written out should we had to have evacuated our office building for an extended period of time.

You don’t need an overly complex plan just a detailed, clearly written document. It should include information on what will keep your business running: primary business functions, information systems, corporate support functions, voice and data communications. Here are 10 tips for creating your plan:

  1. Whether you are an individual working at home or run a large business, take the time to think about likely scenarios. Ones that you have experienced or are very likely to occur require more detailed plans than those that have a less likely chance to happen.

  2. Talk to those who are vital to your plan’s execution and the running of your business. You have two types of individuals to consider: those who will help you execute the plan, and those who carry out your various daily business functions.

  3. Talk to your outside support people, especially your vendors. They can play an important part in providing you with the necessary supplies to continue operations when you do not have access to your own.

  4. After you have collected all the important information, write down the steps you would need to take to execute your plan, but keep it simple (outline format is a good start).

  5. Flesh in the plan by adding details. Depending on the size and complexity of your business, you might need one general plan and individual ones for each of your departments such as Sales, or Information Technology.

  6. Have everyone involved read the draft and give input. Make sure your plan accurately reflects how your business will run during the disruption, after you vacate (if need be) and when you return. Be sure you have a section dealing with contacting your customers along with storing and having access to any computer databases and phone numbers.

  7. Format your documents so they are easy to follow. Stay away from cryptic terms and industry jargon. Someone not familiar with such terms might have to carry out the plan! Be sure you have multiple copies (both paper and electronic) stored not only at your business location but elsewhere off site.

  8. Do a “dry run”. Call everyone involved together and talk through the scenarios.

  9. For those most likely to occur consider doing an actual run through. Large corporations do this to insure that the plan, as written, really works.

  10. Consider hiring a professional business writer to craft your plan. Professional writers are skilled at taking information and structuring it so that it is easy to follow and execute.

If ever required, your business continuity/disaster recovery plan will enable you to respond in a systematic and organized fashion. It will guide your organization, step-by-step, from responding to the actual event all the way through to returning to normal. Take the time to write a plan now so that you don’t get caught in the dark when the lights go out. The health of your bottom line is a stake!  

                                                                                                                         © 2006 Leona M Seufert