Recovering from your next disaster starts now

Business continuity planning can make or break a company

by Joanne Cleaver

It’s best to not let your imagination go wild when speculating on the types of disasters–both natural and man-made–that could bring your company to its knees. Or worse.

The list is long and terrifying: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, terrorism (domestic and foreign), data breaches, riots, sabotage, flood, massive infrastructure breakdowns and on and on.

Effectively preparing for a disaster is more about focusing on what it takes to get your operation safely back on the road and less about trying to outrun every conceivable horror that might erupt, say disaster recovery experts.

RELATED: Learn about crisis planning at the UMA Motorcoach EXPO, Jan. 19-23 in Nashville, TN.

Concentrating on what you could do to get up and running again keeps your focus on what you can do instead of staying in a defensive crouch. Planning comes with its own upside, too; the very process helps you better understand how your own fleets could be part of other companies’ recovery and rescue plans.

“Rather than planning for all the things that can go wrong, plan for how to make things right again,” said Dean Gallup, director of cybersecurity and business resilience consulting for Advantaged Solutions, Inc., a Washington, D.C., firm that helps companies assemble and test disaster recovery plans.

A former volunteer firefighter and fire chief, Gallup has seen his share of disasters, panic and heroism.

Companies are often so daunted by disaster planning that they give up before they start, he said. But he and other disaster recovery experts say that it’s best to start with a simple, straightforward plan that first focuses on responding, then restarting, then reconstituting.

Responding, including rescuing, is about safety. What’s the plan for immediate danger to life?  Often, insurers are the first line of proactive authority here–after all, when it’s an emergency, they’ve got their money on the line, too.

Ask your business and property insurers for audits, reviews and recommendations about how to go beyond the basics of life-safety systems. That means making sure that as many staffers as possible are trained in CPR, that you actually execute fire and safety drills and that staff  know where to reassemble if they must flee a vehicle or building.

Restarting is the “What now?” phase. Before the dust has settled or the mud has dried, it’s time to figure out how to get the basic operation up and running.

Gallup starts with a business process analysis that clarifies the core functions that must become operational for the business to literally open its doors. “What are the things you do daily? That’s what you need to focus on,” he says. “Keeping track of your fleet is a daily function, so you’ll need to make sure your GPS system is up and running. Recertifying drivers is important, but not something you do every day.”

Be prepared to create to-do lists of to-do lists as you realize how many recurring, but not daily, functions must now be rescheduled lest you overlook them. Dealing with insurance claims, incident reports, inspections and the like can easily overwhelm even the most organized leader. A master calendar, saved offsite along with data backups, can be invaluable.

“Aim for recovery in eight to 24 hours,” says Gallup.

Reconstituting is the longer process of rebuilding. “It’s getting back to the new normal,” said Gallup. “It’s getting whole.”

Data restored from your daily backups, that were–of course, stored off-site–must be backed up. Customers need to be informed of your plan to satisfy your obligations to them. Lenders want reassurance that you will be making payments. Business partners want to know if they can still count on you.

“Invest in identifying the daily functions that truly should be the top priority–like the ticket processing or replacing the loss of a major portion of the fleet. The three most important things, establish your plan for those. Don’t try to restore everything all at once,” said Gallup. “What does your company need to operate for eight hours?”

After hurricanes hit North Carolina in late summer 2018, Holiday Tours Inc., based in Randleman, North Carolina, was part of the regional rescue and recovery, said Jonathan Moody, assistant general manager.

“We received dozens of ‘evacuation contracts’ from various entities because they were affected and now felt the need to update their information. In general, our part is safety. They are using us to safely avoid a devastating situation, and then once everything is clear, returning home,” said Moody. “Those contracts were all won on the basis of prior experience during disaster-relief type of work. We showed our previous experience as well as our safety record as a transportation company.”

While Holiday’s own disaster plan was not part of its proposals to governments and agencies engaged in rescuing citizens from floodwaters and impending wind, the fact that the company had gone through the exercise made its leaders conversant with the basic issues.

Awareness attuned Holiday to the urgent needs of power companies along the east coast, which had to shuttle emergency crews from worksites to hotels, around the clock, and of wide-scale “military style” evacuations along the southeastern coastline.

“It’s a reminder to not wait until you need something before you plan it out,” said Moody.


First, a communications plan

What’s going on? When will it be fixed? Is everybody okay?

Communication needs to flow first, fast and factually to satisfy customers, business partners and internal staff. Here’s a rundown of best practices recommended by disaster recovery and crisis communication consultants.

  • Have a communication plan in place, even if it’s a simple phone tree.
  • Make sure all key personnel have all phone numbers–office, cell and home–for all other key personnel, as well as critical back-up services, such as the contacts at other carriers who might be able to send excess vehicles to bridge gaps in service.
  • Key personnel should know who the designated, official spokesperson for media is and who is on call for social media updates.
  • Know that the public would rather have immediate and accurate, if incomplete, information than be kept in the dark. It’s better to provide news bulletins as the situation is verified than to hold back information in hopes of delivering a complete story, if not a success story, to a frustrated public.
  • Keep customer service in the loop so they can monitor and respond to social media chatter, queries and complaints.
  • Document communications for review later and so you can connect with customers, suppliers and business partners after the dust has settled.

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