Disaster Recovery Planning for Your Office: Practice Makes Perfect

A disaster recovery plan is essential to keeping your organization running in the case of a natural disaster. But it’s only effective if your staff knows what’s in it and how to implement it.

As Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have shown, natural disasters can strike quickly with devastating consequences. Is your organization prepared to weather such an event?

“You could have an event that disrupts your business to the extent that it could actually put you out of business … if you don’t have planning in place,” says Dean Gallup, vice president of programming at the Mid Atlantic Disaster Recovery Association (MADRA).

And this isn’t just a warning for associations and organizations with headquarters near hurricane-prone areas. There are wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and more that could affect business operations—everything from data to office space to personnel. Plus, associations need to think about their whole supply chain, says Gallup. While they may not be directly affected by such an event, their key suppliers and vendors could be.

So, how do you keep ahead of a natural disaster? The answer involves not only creating a disaster recovery plan but also practicing it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of creating your own, be encouraged that organizations like MADRA, the Association for Continuity Professionals, and Disaster Recovery Institute International can help.

But Gallup says organizations can tackle these plans themselves in as short as four to five pages, providing they have carefully thought about their vulnerabilities and outlined specific ways to manage them. Still, “you’ve got to know what’s in those plans to be able to execute them, and the more you test, it becomes muscle memory,” he says. “The more you try things out, the more it becomes a part of your routine.”

Here are some ways to create that muscle memory among staff:

Use “national” weeks and months as reminders to review your plan. Gallup recommends incorporating disaster-recovery planning into your day-to-day operations. If that seems farfetched, use the calendar as a guide: Use National Preparedness Month in September, Fire Prevention Week in October, and EMS Week in May as yearly reminders  to highlight potential disasters and review your organization’s disaster recovery plans.

Do a tabletop exercise. Practicing your plan can be as simple as a discussing it around a conference table. “You’re just talking through the situation,” Gallup says. For instance:  “’Bob, what would you do if you got this phone call? Do you know how to get a hold of your people? Do you know how to account for everyone? Do you know where the backups are stored?’ You just walk through it.”

Put your plan into practice, piecemeal. There are ways you can practice certain aspects of your plan without shutting down operations for the day or the week, Gallup says. For example, if you have 20 percent of your staff working remotely, ask everyone to work from home one day to see if your remote systems can handle that extra 80 percent. If you have backup vendors, Gallup recommends that you use them once in a while to determine how smoothly and successfully that process goes. “Say you have a backup data center,” Gallup said. “On the weekend, move everything over to the backup data center, get some employees and test on it, and make sure everything works and that you can actually update your live database.”

It’s also important to carefully review your disaster recovery plan—with an eye to editing it—at least once a year, especially if your organization has undergone major changes in operations or mission.

“If you don’t take it seriously, what’s going to happen is you’re going to have a plan that has not been tested, has not been vetted, that you don’t know whether it works or not, and you’re going to have to pull it off the shelf and try and implement it, not knowing whether it will even work,” Gallup says.

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Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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