A Guide to Disaster Management for Small Businesses

by | Mar 19, 2019

Fire, flooding, ransomware – disasters can strike at any moment, in many different forms. When companies aren’t prepared, their operations come to a screeching halt—and in many cases, they never recover.

By implementing a comprehensive disaster management plan, your organization can help reduce the risk of disasters and recover quickly when they do occur.

Here’s what you need to know.

 

What is Disaster Management?

Disaster management (DM) is a form of strategic planning to help businesses prepare for, and respond to, a variety of disaster situations. It aims to help organizations manage all stages of a disaster, including prevention, preparation, response and recovery.

At its essence, disaster management helps organizations answer the following questions:

·      How can we prevent disaster from occurring?

·      How can we prepare for it?

·      How do we respond after disaster occurs?

·      How do we recover from it?

DM can encompass a company’s entire approach to emergency response, or it can be focused on specific business processes or divisions, such as IT.

For example, one form of DM planning could be focused on employee safety protocols, while another could be focused on IT components like cybersecurity and data backup.

 

The Importance of Disaster Management

Why do you need DM?

Because a disaster can literally shutter your business.

According to FEMA, roughly half of small businesses never reopen their doors after a disaster. And it’s not just natural disasters you need to worry about. Beyond severe weather events like hurricanes and tornados, a wide range of other disasters can freeze your operations, including data loss, server failure, pipe bursts, work stoppages and even transportation disruptions, just to name a few.

Simply knowing about these risks is not enough. Businesses must be proactive about mitigating the impact of a disaster at all ends, from prevention to recovery.

Following a disaster, every second is critical. How quickly and effectively a business responds will largely dictate its ability to survive. 90% of small businesses that are unable to resume operations within 5 days are expected to fail within one year, according to FEMA.

 

Disaster Management Stages

Disaster management has 4 distinct stages: prevention, preparation, response and recovery. Together, these stages represent what’s often referred to as the “disaster management life cycle,” because each stage is interconnected, playing a role in the other stages.

Here’s a breakdown of each of the 4 DM stages:

·      Prevention & Mitigation: The first stage consists of all planning related to preventing disruptive events from occurring. It includes all the precautionary steps that are taken to mitigate a disaster, if not avert it entirely. Risk assessments are often a vital component of this stage, because it’s virtually impossible to prevent disaster scenarios without knowing what those disasters look like. A very basic example of a preventative measure is the deployment of anti-malware solutions to prevent a malware infection. But really, the Prevention stage can be applied to any aspect of the business, from employee safety to the structural integrity of company buildings.

·      Preparation: Like the first stage, the Preparation stage is focused on the time period prior to a disaster (sometimes even immediately before an anticipated event). This stage encompasses all the steps that ensure the organization, workers and systems are adequately prepared for the disaster, whether it’s imminent or not. Examples can include everything from employee evacuation drills to cybersecurity penetration tests.

·      Response: The Response stage is the stage that immediately follows a disruption. It dictates how the company responds to the event to ensure both the safety of staff and the continuity of operations. During this stage, critical decisions are made to ensure that recovery protocols are initiated. Additionally, this stage includes any post-event steps that can help to mitigate the impact of the disaster. For example: the manual activation of a fire suppression system when fire is detected, or the powering down of servers if a widespread ransomware attack is underway.

·      Recovery: Following a disaster, companies must work quickly to restore everything back to normal. A failure to do so will have devastating and lasting impact on operations. Additionally, the longer a recovery takes, the more costly it will be. This fourth and final stage includes all the steps and systems that make that recovery possible. This stage can include everything from data recovery to the replacement of equipment damaged by a natural disaster.

 

Starting Your Disaster Management Plan

The first step to an effective DM strategy is creating a disaster management plan. This will serve as your master document, outlining all the systems, steps and processes for managing a disaster.

Much like a business continuity plan, your disaster management plan is the foundation of your planning. Having a plan, on paper, ensures that there is no guesswork or confusion about the company’s response to a disruptive event. It identifies risks and provides clear instructions for each of the 4 DM stages identified above.

What’s the difference between a business continuity plan (BCP), a disaster recovery plan (DRP) and a disaster management plan (DMP)? While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, each document serves a unique purpose.

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The general objectives for each are usually as follows:

·      Business Continuity Plan: Preparing the organization to be able to maintain continuity during a disruptive event.

·      Disaster Recovery Plan: Ensuring that IT systems can be rapidly recovered after a disaster.

·      Disaster Management Plan: Helping the organization manage emergency situations with steps for prevention, mitigation, response and recovery.

Much of the information in your disaster management plan may indeed overlap with what’s already in your BCP. However, BCPs tend to have minimal focus on the “human element,” i.e. steps for employee safety during emergencies, securing temporary housing for displaced workers, coordinating with federal disaster agencies, etc. That is where your DM plan will likely diverge, providing more extensive guidance for emergency situations, beyond the sole objective of continuity.

 

Types of Disaster Management

Disaster management can take many forms, depending on the objectives of the business. As we established above, DM planning can be focused on a specific business unit, such as IT, or it can apply to all possible emergency situations

Managing various kinds of disasters will require different procedures and systems. The following list provides only a few examples of the many different types of disaster management:

·      Training & Emergency Drills: Ongoing training programs ensure workers know how to respond to an emergency. A fire drill is a common example, but there are many others.

·      Emergency Response & Evacuation: Critical steps should be followed immediately after a disaster in which there is imminent physical danger to people.

·      Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery Solutions: Systems for restoring IT infrastructure and/or data backups in order to maintain continuity. Disasters do not need the danger of physical harm to be devastating to a business. An effective disaster management plan is one that also accounts for threats to critical business systems.

·      Rescue & Relief: Critical aid to those who have been physically harmed or impeded by the disaster. This is especially important planning for businesses that are at risk of dangerous natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

·      Communication Systems: Procedures and systems for maintaining communication during a disaster. This type of disaster management is vital for ensuring that response teams can communicate with each other and get messages out to other workers or customers, especially in instances where primary lines of communication have been severed.

Each of these categories is actually one piece of the overall disaster management life cycle. Each should naturally fall into one of the 4 DM stages: prevention, mitigation, response, recovery. For example, training programs would fall under the Preparation stage, while things like evacuation routes would fall under Response.

 

Preventing Disaster

An aggressive focus on the first stage of disaster management—Prevention—will greatly reduce the risks of entering the following stages.

No business can remove risk entirely. But with the right preventative measures, you can significantly decrease the chances of natural and technological disasters negatively impacting the company.

Examples of prevention mechanisms can include:

·      Risk management & assessments

·      Business impact analyses

·      Employee policies & training (email/Internet cybersecurity, fire safety, etc.)

·      Structural code compliance / fortification

·      Cybersecurity software / hardware

·      Data protection systems

·      Smoke / fire detection and suppression

Keep in mind that all of your DM planning is a form of prevention. You may not be able to prevent an earthquake, for example; but by having plans for safety, evacuation, first aid, business relocation and data recovery, you can minimize the devastating impact that an earthquake would otherwise have.

 

Be ready for anything

Every business has its own unique risks and recovery objectives. Assessing those risks is an important first step to knowing how to prevent and respond to a disaster.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides several toolkits to help small businesses prepare for common disasters, such as power outages, hurricanes, flooding, severe wind and others. Use these toolkits as a starting point for identifying DM strategies, assessing readiness and taking preventative actions. But be sure to create a custom disaster management plan that is unique to your business’s risks and objectives.

 

Improve your data protection 

Regaining access to your data after a disaster is critical for maintaining continuity. To learn more about deploying stronger protection for your critical data, request a free demo of hybrid data backup & recovery solutions from Datto.

For more information, contact our business continuity specialists at Invenio IT by calling (646) 395-1170 or by emailing [email protected].

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Dale Shulmistra is a Business Continuity Specialist at Invenio IT, responsible for shaping the company’s technology initiatives -- selecting, designing, implementing & supporting business continuity solutions to bolster client operational efficiencies and eliminate downtime.