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Whether it's a natural disaster like a storm, flood or wildfire, or it’s a mechanical or facility disaster like a boiler failure or toxic chemical spill, having a continuity plan in place can help make your company less vulnerable and provide a framework for a return to business as usual.

A little time invested up front developing a Business Continuity Plan can pay off exponentially by saving recovery costs, business revenues, your company's reputation and even people’s lives.

Prepare, Respond, Recover

The Components of a Business Continuity Plan:

Disaster Preparedness - Recognize the types of events that might compromise your business, assess the threats facing your company and identify steps to eliminate or minimize the impact of those threats.

Emergency Response - Develop procedures that enable you to respond when a disaster occurs or is forecast to occur. Continue with the plan until everyone is safe and there is no further threat of property damage or bodily injury.

Business Recovery - Identify your company’s critical business functions and define procedures that will facilitate restoration of sales, production and operations to pre-disaster levels.

Five Steps to Executing a Business Continuity Plan

1. Build Your Team
- All successful business continuity plans are built from the top down. Begin with commitment and support from top management. Assign a designated person responsible for overseeing the process. Then assemble a core team of individuals that represents every critical business department.

2. Assess the Risk - Identify and rank the types of events or hazards most likely to threaten your business. These may include facility construction, fire protection, technology resources, staffing, past events, supply chain, specialized equipment, climate, security and utilities.

3. Analyze the Business - Develop a business impact analysis (BIA) that ranks functions from highly critical to important so that you can recover the most critical functions first and then, over time, restore all business processes. Once the critical functions have been identified, business units should recommend strategies that allow for the recovery of functions within a prescribed time frame (known as recovery time objectives (RTO). Backup data files should be stored offsite and accessible within a few hours. Ask your IT vendor if it offers a service to ship you replacement equipment quickly shipped after a disaster.

4. Document the Plan - It's important to document the plan and procedures step-by-step. If you don't have business continuity planning software, most plans can be written using basic word-processing programs.

5. Test the Plan - To verify that your choices for recovery strategies are valid, regular testing is essential. These tests may be a simple exercise in which the staff discusses the steps required to respond to a disaster scenario. This is a great opportunity to determine what won't work as well as what will. Remember, business continuity planning is a cycle that requires continual reviews, updates and adjustments based on changes to your business operations. This may appear time-consuming and costly, but the investment is essential to maintaining a comprehensive, effective plan.