Creating a business continuity plan.

Recent natural disasters have moved company planning and preparedness to the forefront of my mind. Think about the effects of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina; it put healthy companies and their owners out of business in one day. Even if companies were able to set up quickly in a new location, some could not locate their employees. Computers were destroyed without backup of the data, old records disappeared forever and instruments were ruined (with insurance settlements months away). But it is not only huge natural disasters that cause these calamities for companies. Smaller-scale disasters can also wipe out a business, including something as simple as a fire or a flood from a broken water main.

I have never heard the term "disaster preparedness" used in our profession, but I think it's time to start using it. I'd like to start by looking at what a complete disaster plan might include. First, a company needs a business continuity plan.

Business Continuity Plan

Every business should create a continuity plan that provides information and organization should a disaster occur. A good resource for determining what needs to be included in a continuity plan is provided by the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). The IBHS has developed a disaster planning guide called "Open for Business Toolkit" for IBHS insurers serving small business customers as a tool for risk management for public, private and nonprofit organizations. Although the online, interactive planning kit is only available to IBHS member insurers' customers, a free version of the guide is available for download at Alternatively, interested business owners can request a free single copy in booklet and CD-ROM format by calling 866/657-4247.

The following 13 items are part of the IBHS "Open for Business" plan. The free guide from IBHS offers complete forms to fill out to develop your company's approach to these items. After you have compiled this information, keep it in a safe location, preferably offsite. I will briefly describe what information your plan should include for each item.

1. Employees: Employee information, including their most likely location in a disaster and next of kin. This should also include cell phone numbers and other means of contact such as E-mail addresses.

2. Suppliers and Vendors: Where to rent or lease equipment outside the disaster zone that is available at short notice.

3. Key Contacts: Banker(s), accountants (include how to get payroll started from a remote location), clean-up service companies to get the business back in operation, and contractors in a remote location not affected by the disaster. 4. Critical Business Functions: A list of computer and office products needed to quickly replace lost equipment, including leasing or purchase agreements with vendors.

5. Recovery Location: A recovery relocation for the business, planned well in advance, and known to employees. This may be an old building at a farm many miles outside the disaster zone, or another company's office in a different area with whom you have an agreement. The most common thing that happens during a natural disaster is a loss of power for a number of days. Business today, with its dependence on electrical power, dictates a move to a new location.

6. Vital Records: Copies of original records that may get lost in a disaster but are needed to continue operation at a new location. Examples of vital records include those for payroll, billing and contracts.

7. Critical Telephone Records: A complete index of all important telephone numbers needed to continue operation at a different location. 8. Supplies: Items essential to keep business processes running. If you have advance warning of a disaster, you may want to move supplies and equipment to your recovery location.

9. Equipment and Vehicles: An inventory and a plan to relocate vehicles and equipment before the onslaught of the event. Assigning certain employees with extra keys the task of moving equipment to a new location may help the company get up and running quickly following the event.

10. Computer Equipment and Software: A complete list of all equipment including serial numbers and value of each item. Digital pictures may help in filing insurance claims. This information must be stored offsite.

11. Voice and Data Communications: A list of all phone and data service providers with contract numbers. This document will allow you to reorder existing services at a new location.

12. Miscellaneous Resources: All the other items that will need to be acquired for operation at a new location. This includes items such as surge protectors, power cords, filing cabinets, portable air conditioners and power generators.

13. Disaster Response Kit: This essential item should include the following resources: a NOAA Weather Radio receiver to access National Weather Service broadcasts, working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, first-aid kit, flashlights, AM/FM radio, bottled water, nonperishable food, paper supplies, tools, blankets, camera, cash/ATM credit cards and an emergency contact list.

Putting together a complete plan for your company may help you qualify now for some insurance discounts. Reviewing your individual business plan with your insurance agent will help you to better understand what items are covered. This understanding might lead you to purchase additional insurance to cover previously overlooked items. At the very least, it helps you to maintain an inventory of your business's assets.

Being the owner of a company is a very prestigious thing, but along with the honor comes the responsibility of being the head of an extended family of employees. Planning for the unforeseen is the professional attitude we all need to develop.

Sidebar: Disaster Checklist

Facilities, building and equipment:
  • What would we do if our facility were closed for several days, damaged or even totally destroyed?
  • What could we absolutely not survive without? Computers? Custom-made parts? The building? What can I do to assure I never have to live without them?
  • What if there is a prolonged power outage?
  • What if my key suppliers or shippers were shut down even though I am not?
  • What if my customer base suffered a disaster and no longer needed or could not afford our product?
Critical information and communications:
  • What if my payroll, tax, accounting or production records were destroyed?
  • What if my computer or computerized machinery were destroyed?
  • What if the local phone service were disabled?
  • How can I be forewarned if a disaster is heading my way?
  • Is my insurance adequate to get us back in operation?
  • Do I understand what is covered and what is not?
  • Can I pay creditors, employees and my own needs during a prolonged shutdown?
  • How long can I survive if we are shut down?
Source: Partial extract from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Tips can also be found on the website.