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What’s the difference b/w disaster recovery plan and business continuity plan? (w/ examples)

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Dale Shulmistra

Data Protection Specialist @ Invenio IT


disaster recovery plan and business continuity plan

People often use the terms disaster recovery and business continuity planning interchangeably, but while these two terms are similar, they describe two different approaches businesses take to bounce back in the event of a disaster.

So what is the difference between a disaster recovery plan and business continuity plan? The answer varies a little depending on who you ask, but the basic rule of thumb is this:

A business continuity plan is focused on all aspects of disaster planning as it relates to preventing an interruption to business operations. A disaster recovery plan is focused more specifically on the response and recovery stages of a disaster, especially in regards to IT systems.

To further differentiate these concepts, let’s look at each plan individually:

  • business continuity plan (BCP) refers to a series of protocols designed to ensure the business can continue operating during a disruptive event. In simplest terms, a BCP aims to answer the question: “How can we keep the business running if disaster strikes?”
  • disaster recovery plan (DRP) refers more specifically to the steps and technologies for recovering from a disruptive event, especially as it pertains to restoring lost data, resolving infrastructure failure or troubleshooting other technological components. This plan aims to answer the question: “How do we recover from a disaster?”

According to Dell, a business continuity plan is a strategy that businesses put in place to continue operating with minimal disruption in the event of a disaster. A disaster recovery plan is more specific. It’s a plan to “restore the data and applications that run your business should your data center, servers or other infrastructure get damaged or destroyed.”

Below, we dig a little deeper into the unique components of each plan and how they differ, but first, let’s talk about why they’re essential in the first place.

Why are a DRP and BCP Important?

Businesses face a wide variety of threats that can impede their ability to function. These could result from natural disasters like fires, floods, tornados, earthquakes or hurricanes. There are also many man-made threats, like malware, cyberattacks, ransomware, accidental data deletion or even internal sabotage. Without both a business continuity plan and a disaster recovery plan in place, businesses face the dire consequences of being ill-prepared when disaster strikes.

Research shows that half of all businesses that experience a major disaster “never return to the marketplace.” Of businesses that are involved in a major fire, 70 percent “fail within 3 years.”

The stakes are especially high for small businesses. According to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), 90% of smaller companies fail within one year after a disaster if they’re unable to resume operations within 5 days. Without detailed plans for preparing for such a disaster, businesses are setting themselves up for failure.

By focusing on both business continuity and disaster recovery planning, you can ensure your business can withstand these challenges.

Alarming Statistics about the Need for Disaster Planning

The rates of business failure are especially high for businesses that do not have a business continuity plan or disaster recovery plan. Consider some of these alarming business continuity statistics:

  • Operational downtime can cost as much as $10,000 per hour for small businesses, according to estimates from BC/DR provider Datto. For larger companies, this downtime can cost millions of dollars per hour.
  • In a broad survey of businesses conducted by DataCore, more than half of businesses reported they had recently experienced a downtime event lasting at least 8 hours.
  • More than 200,000 businesses in the U.S. were forced to close due to disruptions from Covid-19 – a prime example of the impact that a large, unexpected disaster (such as a pandemic) can have on businesses that have not planned for such incidents.

How a Business Continuity Plan and Disaster Recovery Plan Overlap

In reality, both plans are referred to generally when describing a business’s disaster preparedness, whether for prevention or response or both.

But also, it’s important to remember that a comprehensive business continuity plan will actually have a disaster recovery plan built into it. Your BCP is a master document that should encompass all aspects of a company’s disaster prevention, mitigation and response, including the recovery protocols (whether tech-focused or not). You cannot have an effective business continuity plan without addressing how the business will recover from different kinds of disasters.

Confused? Don’t be. Let’s take a closer look at each plan.

Business Continuity Planning

A business continuity plan is a broad plan to keep a business up and running in the event of a disaster. It focuses on the business as a whole, but also drills down to very specific scenarios that create risks for operations.

With business continuity planning, generally speaking, you’re focusing on the critical operations that the business needs to get up and running again after a disruption in order to conduct regular business. If the plan is followed correctly, businesses should be able to continue to provide services to customers during or immediately after a disaster with minimal disruption. The plan also focuses on the needs of business partners and vendors.

A business continuity plan is a written document that lists the business’s essential functions. According to TechTarget, these are things like a list of critical supplies, employee contact information, a list of crucial business functions or copies of important records. Basically, the business continuity plan includes all the necessary information to get the business up and running as soon as possible after a disruptive event.

But even that is only one small component of a BCP, as we address below. 

Disaster Recovery Planning

A disaster recovery plan can be considered a more focused, specific part of a business continuity plan.

Depending on who you talk to, a disaster recovery plan is sometimes narrowly focused on a business’s data and information systems. According to Data Center Knowledge, for example, a disaster recovery plan is designed to save “data with the sole purpose of being able to recover it in the event of a disaster.” For this reason, disaster recovery planning is usually focused on the needs of the IT department.

Depending on the type of disaster, the plan could involve everything from recovering a small data set to the loss of an entire datacenter. Since most businesses are increasingly reliant on information technology, the disaster recovery plan is an important part of business continuity planning.

A disaster recovery plan can also refer to protocols that are outside the realm of IT. For example, the plan could include steps for recovery personnel to seek a secondary business location to resume critical operations. Or, it could include guidance for how to restore communication between emergency staff if primary lines of communication are unavailable.

In other words, disaster recovery planning does not always have to be strictly IT-focused, though it often is. If your IT personnel are creating an IT-focused disaster recovery plan, just be sure that all non-IT recovery protocols are included within the larger BCP documentation.

What to Include in a Business Continuity Plan

Your BCP should serve as the single, multifaceted document for managing all ends of disaster preparedness at your organization:

  • Prevention: Steps and systems to prevent certain disasters from occurring in the first place.
  • Mitigation: Processes to limit the impact of disasters when they occur.
  • Recovery: Protocols for restoring operations as quickly as possible to limit downtime or other adverse consequences.

These are broad categories that need to be defined individually for each possible disaster scenario. To do so, you need to gain a better understanding of the unique risks that pose a threat to your organization and how those events will impact the business in terms of downtime, costs, reputation damage and so on.

As such, a typical business continuity plan will usually require the following sections:

  • Contact information: Contact details for those who developed the BCP, and/or key recovery personnel within each department.
  • Plan objectives: The overall objective for the plan, i.e. its purpose and overall goal – what it aims to accomplish, why it’s critical, what areas it focuses on, etc.
  • Risk assessment: A thorough assessment of disaster scenarios that could disrupt operations, prioritized by likelihood and/or severity of impact.
  • Impact analysis: Specific outcomes for each disaster scenario in terms of how much they negatively impact the business, i.e. the costs for idle workers, recovery costs, hardware damage and repair, etc.
  • Prevention: Steps and systems for preventing each of those disasters, such as the implementation of antimalware systems to prevent certain cyberattacks.
  • Response: How the business should respond to each disaster to minimize impact and initiate a rapid recovery, such as restoring backups after a data loss.
  • Areas for improvement: Any weaknesses identified in the creation of the BCP, along with recommended solutions and steps for filling these holes. (Your BCP is an evolving document that should be updated periodically to reassess risks and incorporate any changes made.)
  • Contingencies: A list of secondary backup assets and/or protocols, such as a backup office location, backup equipment and so on.
  • Communication: Protocols for staying in communication with recovery personnel and/or all personnel at large, such as a text alert system, company extranet, calling trees, etc.

What to Include in a Disaster Recovery Plan

A disaster recovery plan is essentially the “Response” component of your business continuity plan. It encompasses all the procedures, technologies and objectives necessary for completing a quick recovery after a disaster. This recovery could pertain to lost data, damaged hardware, network outages, application failure or virtually any other point of failure across your operations.

Here are some things you’ll want to identify within your disaster recovery plan:

  • Recovery technologies: All systems currently implemented (or those that should be) that support the recovery process. An example would be a data backup and disaster recovery system that enables you to recover critical files that have gone missing or large datasets that have been infected with ransomware.
  • Recovery Time Objective (RTO): Your RTO is a desired timeframe for completing recovery before things take a turn for the worse. It can be applied to the business as a whole or individual layers of IT, like data recovery. For example, an RTO of 30 minutes would mean that all data should be recovered or restored within 30 minutes after a loss is discovered.
  • Recovery Point Objective (RPO): RPO refers specifically to the age of data backups. It’s the desired recovery point for restoring data from a backup to minimize the amount of data loss. An example RPO might be 6 hours – meaning that your last backup would never be more than 6 hours old. So if your systems were suddenly infected with ransomware, the data you restore from a backup shouldn’t be more than 6 hours old. (Thus, a longer RPO, such as 24 hours, would create the risk of losing a lot more data.)
  • Recovery protocols: Who does what in a disaster situation? Your DRP should clearly define the roles of your recovery personnel, so that there is no confusion and not a minute wasted when disaster strikes. In the case of a data recovery, who oversees it? How, exactly, do they do it? Who do they communicate with, and how are updates communicated with other personnel? All of this should be spelled out to ensure that recovery teams know what to do and can refer back to this guidance when needed.
  • Vendors, supplies & other third parties: These could be IT providers, telecommunications companies or other third parties that may be needed to support the recovery process. For example, in case of an Internet outage, your DRP should identify your Internet provider’s emergency contact information (ideally a specific point of contact) to ensure a faster resolution.
  • Recovery testing: Periodic tests and mock disaster scenarios to confirm your recovery systems work as they should. One example could be a test data recovery to confirm that backups are available and can be restored without integrity issues.

Like your BCP, your disaster recovery plan should also be updated periodically to ensure all the information is still accurate.

Also, remember that the information in your DRP should be dictated in part by a thorough business analysis, like the risk assessments and impact analyses from your overall continuity planning. It is indeed important to understand the differences between a business continuity plan and a disaster recovery plan, but perhaps even more important is understanding how these two documents hinge on each other and play a connected role in maintaining continuity.

Backup & Disaster Recovery

One of the best strategies in disaster recovery planning is to keep all of your data backed up on a server at a secondary site. This way, if a disaster occurs at the primary site, a backup of all vital data is available. A good disaster recovery plan will dictate how you manage and access data from the secondary site as quickly as possible.

For example, in the case of hybrid-cloud backup systems like the Datto SIRIS, you have several recovery options available to you.  If a disaster occurs at the primary site, you can restore data from the cloud or boot the entire backup as a virtual machine. The virtualization method allows for instant access to data and applications while a full recovery is in process.

Ultimately, the reliability of your disaster recovery plan is dependent on everything you’ve included in the plan: all the infrastructure, processes, planning and testing.

Frequently Asked Questions

1) What’s the difference between a business continuity plan and a disaster recovery plan?

The main difference is that a disaster recovery plan is more focused on the procedures for recovering from a disaster, especially in regards to IT systems, while a business continuity plan focuses on the bigger picture of preventing all operational disruptions.

Disaster recovery planning is typically considered a subset of business continuity planning.

2) Which comes first: business continuity or disaster recovery?

Business continuity planning is the foundation of a business’s disaster planning and thus should come before disaster recovery planning. Continuity planning will identify the primary threats to a business using a risk assessment and impact analysis. Those assessments can be used to inform IT disaster recovery planning.

3) What is an example of a business continuity strategy?

One example of a business continuity strategy is creating frequent data backups that can be restored in case files are deleted, destroyed or lost. This strategy involves using a dependable business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) system that enables frequent backups and prompt restore methods.

4) What is business continuity and disaster recovery?

Business continuity and disaster recovery (or BC/DR) refers to the systems and procedures that help a business continue operating through a disaster. The term is commonly used in reference to data backup and recovery systems, but it can apply to other IT systems as well.

Don’t Go without a Plan! Get the Protection You Need.

Being prepared for a disaster is one of the most important things a business can do to prevent costly downtime—or permanent closure—when these disruptive incidents occur. Get in touch with our experts at Invenio IT to explore the technology your organization needs for business continuity, data backup and disaster recovery. Request a free demo or contact our specialists at Invenio IT by calling (646) 395-1170 or by emailing

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