In Case of Emergency: Creating Your Business Continuity Plan

You’ve probably thought a bit about cybersecurity risks to your business and how to prevent them: things like training employees to recognize phishing emails and practice good password security, using firewalls and antivirus software to prevent a malware or ransomware attack and keeping your software up to date.

But no security system is perfect, so it’s also a good idea to do some business continuity planning in case you do suffer a serious tech disaster, whether it’s caused by a hardware or software mishap, human error or even criminal activity. Your business continuity plan (also called an disaster recovery plan) should likely include processes for data recovery, so you lose as little critical information as possible, as well as ways to keep serving your customers while your systems are at limited capacity.

What is a business continuity plan?

A business continuity plan is a detailed procedure for how you’ll keep your operations going. It’s best to have a business continuity plan template to follow in order to handle specific circumstances. A natural disaster, like a hurricane or tornado, for example, means you probably won’t be able to get into your business to check on hardware.

You’ll need a different template created for IT-related disasters. Think about the types of technical issues you could face: cybersecurity problems like ransomware or a data breach, the failure of computers at your work sites, a compromised internet connection and issues with other third-party tools and platforms, from e-commerce products to email.

You can find many examples of disaster recovery plan templates online that you can fill out and have ready to deploy. For each of these plans, think about what the immediate effects will be on your business, how you can mitigate them if disaster strikes, who will be involved and what you need to get in place in advance to be ready. Also consider how you’ll cover the costs involved, the vendors you’ll need to work with, where you’ll physically need to locate people and equipment and any notifications you may need to send to customers.

Make a concise checklist of your plan and make sure you can go through all the steps, even in a chaotic time.

Planning for data loss

Ideally, you’ll never lose access to critical business data, but it’s something you should prepare for.

Part of preparing for data loss means thinking about small business data backup options that could work for you. Having data stored on just one server in your office, one person’s workstation or even one cloud server is potentially a recipe for disaster. If those files are accidentally lost due to equipment failure, malware or human error, you may have no easy way to recover information critical to your business.

This is why it’s important to find ways to back up your data, ideally with some copies stored offsite, away from your main business operations. Your internet service provider may be able to help with this, or you may want to use another cloud backup provider or even keep backup copies stored in a safe deposit box at your bank.

Come up with a procedure to make regular backups of your data and—this is critical—periodically test that you can actually recover all the data you need from those backups in a reasonable amount of time. Think about where you’ll restore the data if your normal computers are physically damaged. Consider how many copies you should store, in case some of your backups are harmed by malware or ransomware.

Planning for worksite disruptions

Whatever type of business you run, and no matter where it’s normally based, you should think about the possibility that your normal worksite may be unusable for a period of time. Many businesses experienced just this scenario during the pandemic, which required employees to work from home, but you may have disasters that impact your space even more, such as fires, floods or severe storms.

If possible, plan where each of your employees will work if it’s impossible to do so in their normal location. In terms of data, think about how they’ll connect to the internet and your files. If your files are normally stored on a server in your office, how will you set up temporary access, potentially to restored backups of these files? Will you need a temporary office or a shared workspace to enable employees to be in the same space as each other or have access to business materials, or will you need to ensure that employees can securely and speedily connect to the internet from home?

You may also need to think about channels to let your customers know your regular office, and potentially your phone numbers, are out of commission. Social media might be a good choice, or email, or even phone calls to some of your most regular customers, depending on your business. The ultimate details you address will vary based on your business, but work them into your formal business continuity plan, so you’re not scrambling to figure things in the heat of the moment.

Taking the time to plan your continuity strategy is key. If your business faces a crisis, it’s a comfort to know you’re entirely prepared.

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