How to prepare a business continuity plan

Don't let a setback turn your business into a permanent failure. The saying "it's better to look ahead and prepare, than to look back and regret" rings true in any situation, and you'll find that creating a business continuity plan (BCP) will enable your business to endure future crises.

A business continuity plan aims to safeguard your business against future crises, and provides a blueprint for how your business will continue to operate after the crisis. According to Queensland Business, a BCP will enable you to identify and prevent risks, prepare for risks outside your control and respond/recover to risks that have occurred.

With this in mind, below are some tips that will help you develop a complete BCP:

Prevention is better than cure
At this stage, try to identify any possible risks that can be resolved before they turn into a bigger threat. Identify the risks that natural, man-made, environmental or political disasters pose to your firm's operations. It is important to evaluate their possibility so that existing mitigation measures can be assessed and future ones prepared. For example, if your area is prone to floods, check information about expected flood levels and road blockages, and how such situations are managed in your community. This will allow you to plan your contingency response.

Learn from your mistakes
If your business has experienced a crisis in the past, learn from any mistakes by conducting a business impact analysis. Evaluate the size and scope of the crisis and its impact on each of your key functional areas. It's also necessary to ensure you are prepared and can respond efficiently in the case of similar future incidents. Identify the key products and services and critical inputs such as specialist/generalist staff, raw materials, utilities, equipment, premises, fuel, vehicles, eftpos, and electronic records that would be required for continuity. Then set priorities for action and allocation of resources according to your organisation's individual needs.

Develop an incident response plan
The continuity of your business will depend on how matters are handled during and after the incident. An incident response plan involves assigning roles and responsibilities to employees and setting clear evacuation procedures.
Keep an emergency kit handy and ready to go. This kit should contain backup USB memory sticks or portable hard drives with important information stored on them, copies of contracts, insurance policies, evacuation plans and checklists for specific disasters (e.g. natural disasters, fires, pandemics). Don't forget to document all external and internal emergency contacts, and keep your kit safe offsite.

Develop a recovery plan
This plan should include key trade resources, alternate workspace locations, minimum employment requirements or key employees, manual workarounds in the event of system shutdowns and system dependencies. You should also include the time frame in which each step should be completed to get your business up and running again. Once the situation is under control, assign tasks to employees and start recovering other damages and loss.

Rehearse your plan
It's equally important to rehearse your plan so that staff members are trained to execute the crisis management and business continuity plans efficiently. A rehearsal will also enable you to determine any areas that aren't working well and improve them. Such tests include:

  • Fire drills
  • Workplace health and safety training
  • Testing of PA systems
  • Passive-walk through or role-playing (e.g. a seminar to run employees through the BCP)
  • Full-scale operational test that reproduces realistic crises.

Lastly, the plan must be updated frequently to include any changes in your organisational structure or suppliers/contractors so that the program remains current.

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