No business is immune to disaster, but a comprehensive disaster management plan makes it possible for any organization to reduce the risk of disruptions and recover quickly when they inevitably occur. However, creating an effective plan isn’t something that happens overnight, especially because it involves understanding all four disaster management stages, each of which is crucial to your business’s continuity planning process.
The disaster management stages—prevention, preparation, response, and recovery—are interconnected and interdependent. The success of each stage, and the overall effectiveness of your disaster management cycle, depends on the strength of every other phase. Keep reading to learn how planning for all of the stages can better protect your business in the face of an emergency.
What are the Four Disaster Management Stages?
The four stages of disaster management are prevention, preparation, response, and recovery. Every stage of the disaster management process is vital to ensuring that your business is able to survive a crisis. Think of the different phases as separate links in a chain. If one link is weak, broken, or missing, the entire chain will ultimately fail.
The same applies to each stage of disaster management. Failing to prepare a strong prevention plan undermines your ability to be prepared, which, in turn, weakens your disaster response and makes your recovery period more painful. Likewise, a solid system of disaster prevention does little good if you haven’t created an equally effective response plan to employ when a disaster finally occurs. Assuming that prevention is all you need is a dangerous strategy because it’s generally impossible to avoid every imaginable crisis.
In other words, a misstep in one stage will ripple through all of the others, resulting in a disaster recovery process that is more expensive, longer, and more damaging to your business. To make sure your organization doesn’t end up in this type of nightmare scenario, let’s explore each disaster management stage in greater depth.
Stage One: Prevention
The first stage of disaster management consists of the fundamental steps necessary to prevent a disaster from occurring, and it’s the foundation on which all the other pieces of your disaster management rest. Although prevention strategies are unique based on the type, size, and structure of your business, they typically include a few key components.
Before any preventative measures can be identified, it’s important to clearly state the objectives of your disaster management planning. To clarify your objectives, consider how you would respond to each of these questions:
- What should the plan accomplish?
- What is its purpose?
- What are its scope and limitations?
Your answers help your planning teams hone in on the most critical underlying goals. For example, you might develop a plan centered on IT disaster recovery that’s specific to technology deployments. Or it might emphasize the human hazards of an emergency situation, including staff safety, shelter, and administering medical aid. Knowing the specific focus of your plan from the very start will simplify and streamline the rest of your disaster management stages.
The most important step in stage one is conducting a thorough risk analysis to understand what types of disasters could realistically strike your business and how serious the impact might be. Without this knowledge, it’s impossible to effectively prepare. Assessing your risks and projecting the effects on your operations is the only way to determine which preventative measures will be most effective.
It’s true that some types of disasters, such as fires, flooding, and severe weather, affect virtually all businesses. On the other hand, every business also faces individual risks based on different elements, including:
- The services or products offered
- The size of the business
- The business location
- The types of technology used
- The amount and kinds of data collected
For example, a coastal business may be at more risk of experiencing a hurricane, while a healthcare organization may be at more risk of cyberattacks or noncompliance with federal regulations. Businesses should assess every possible risk as it pertains to their specific operations, industries, technology, and physical sites.
Business Impact Analysis
A business impact analysis allows you to prioritize risks based on the financial, reputational, and productivity losses that you could reasonably expect to incur if a particular disaster occurred. Even when two businesses face identical threats, the impacts they experience may be completely different. A data breach at one company could derail operations for days and cost millions of dollars in recovery, yet the same type of breach might have very little effect on another organization.
Consider the example of T-Mobile, where a 2021 data breach resulted in a $350 million settlement for customers whose personal information was stolen. A different type of business that stored a lower volume of data, or that stored data that wasn’t particularly sensitive, would face far less severe consequences in the face of this kind of event. In terms of disaster management planning, this type of business would likely place more focus on other risks like natural disasters, whereas T-Mobile should funnel much of its energy and resources toward preventing additional cyberattacks.
Structural Vulnerability Assessment
Building codes and zoning requirements are an important component of the prevention stage because they are designed to mitigate the impact of destructive natural disasters. They help to ensure a building is structurally sound and resistant to the elements, including wind, water, and fire. Remaining compliant with those codes and performing additional vulnerability assessments can prevent or reduce the impact of many common disasters.
Stage Two: Preparation
The second stage of disaster prevention also occurs before a disaster strikes, but it involves putting your analysis into action. Because of the overlapping nature of the first two stages, some of the elements could arguably fall within either one. For instance, a good cybersecurity training program can not only prepare your organization for a potential cyberattack but can also help prevent personnel from becoming victims of a phishing scam. With this in mind, tailor your preparation stage to the specific structure and needs of your organization, taking into account these common elements.
Education and Training
Everybody at an organization plays some role in preparing for a disaster, even if the directive is to “stay home and wait for updates.” All staff must know what to do in an emergency situation for their own safety as well as for business continuity. This is why education is such an important component of stage two.
Businesses must develop programs to increase staff awareness and readiness. This might include:
- Digital training programs
- Active shooter simulations
- Fire drills
- Evacuation routes
The content of your training and education depends on the focus of your plan. In IT-focused planning, for example, you might include training on best practices for using email and proper handling of sensitive data.
Shelter and Supplies
If your disaster management plan is more focused on human hazards, then it’s important to consider how and where personnel can get emergency aid during a disaster. A very basic example would be a first aid kit for on-site injuries.
On a larger scale, this could include pre-built shelter locations or stations. The United States Department of Labor recommends that any business that deals with hazardous materials should have a shelter-in-place location where employees can seek refuge if there’s a risk of exposure or an explosion due to a leak. Identifying these sites in advance could mean the difference between health and harm for the members of your organization.
Disaster Recovery Solutions and Technologies
For many businesses, the most persistent day-to-day threats occur within IT. Events like cyberattacks and data loss can cause just as much downtime and financial destruction as natural disasters, if not more. A 2022 report from IBM revealed that the average cost of a data breach in the United States is $9.44 million, a terrifying number for practically any organization. Businesses can prepare for these disruptions by deploying technologies like data backup solutions, network security infrastructure, anti-malware software, and other cybersecurity defenses.
Few things test the preparedness of an organization more than a drill. Mock disaster scenarios are a good way to ensure that emergency protocols will be followed when a real-world event occurs. Drills can be used to test most safeguards, from human safety procedures like fire evacuations to IT-related concerns like mock data backup recoveries. Keep in mind when you conduct a drill that it’s normal, and even preferable, to discover some weaknesses and flaws. These are the data points that will empower you to take corrective action and improve your disaster preparedness before it’s put to the test in an actual emergency.
Stage Three: Response
The third disaster management stage occurs immediately upon the onset of a disaster. As such, the planning for this stage revolves around deciding how to react while an ongoing event is still occurring or just after a short event has concluded. This might involve ensuring safety, mitigating operational downtime, or both.
How a business responds to a disaster plays a major role in what happens in the last stage. If the response is inadequate or badly executed, recovery might not be possible at all. Consider, for example, that 60% of small businesses permanently close their doors within six months of experiencing a cyberattack. While some of those closures are unavoidable, others are tied to slow and inefficient recovery processes that result from a lack of response planning.
To respond to a disaster, quick action must be taken to assess the impact. If there is structural damage, for example, response teams must assess how severe it is and how it will affect things like operational continuity and staff safety. The same goes for damage to IT infrastructure, including servers and networks. Plan ahead by creating a list of assets and structures that will need to be assessed so that your response team knows what to look for when evaluating damage and determining how to move forward.
Emergency Response and Relief
The safety of your employees should always be paramount, so this component is especially vital in situations where people have been put in harm’s way. Emergency response procedures should be followed to provide immediate medical attention, prevent further injuries from taking place, and receive assistance from external parties. To make sure each of these things happens as quickly as possible, your disaster management response planning should include:
- Establishing a dedicated response team
- Providing training in life-saving measures
- Ensuring all team members know how to contact external emergency responders
Following these steps is vital to protecting your team from unnecessary danger and avoiding fatalities in the event of a serious disaster.
Even before a full recovery is enacted, steps should be taken to mitigate the impact of the event. For example, in a ransomware attack, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recommends immediately disconnecting all devices from the network and, if necessary, powering them down to prevent the infection from spreading. Similarly, in more physically dangerous situations, such as a fire, steps should be taken to prevent it from worsening, whether by calling responders or manually enabling fire suppression systems.
Restoring Critical Services
To maintain continuity, businesses should try to resume their most critical operations as soon as possible after a disaster, even if a full recovery will take much longer. This could mean prioritizing essential steps, such as:
- Providing limited services to customers
- Resuming production on a limited basis
- Restoring lost data via virtualized backups
Although these measures might not bring your operations back up to their normal capacities, they will help minimize your losses and reduce disruptions to customers. This, in turn, will help salvage your business’s reputation and maintain the trust and loyalty of your customers, clients, and stakeholders down the line.
Stage Four: Recovery
The fourth and final stage of disaster management includes all the necessary steps to perform a full recovery and bring everything back to normal again. In this stage, operations resume at typical levels and any remaining threats from the initial disaster are removed.
For a small department store that has been wrecked by a tornado, this could mean reopening its doors in a new building that is fully staffed, fully stocked, and open during regular hours. For a healthcare organization shuttered by ransomware, it could mean resuming all operations, restoring all patient services, and fully recovering any lost data. Regardless of what type of organization you operate, there are a few elements that are particularly important to your disaster management process.
Create an extensive set of procedures to guide recovery teams through the post-disaster period. These procedures are typically outlined in a disaster recovery plan. Different types of disasters will require different actions, so the procedures need to be individualized for each type of event. In other words, your recovery from a flood will look very different than your recovery from a ransomware attack.
A complete recovery is not possible if there is any lingering possibility that the disaster will suddenly resume or worsen, so it’s crucial to ensure that the threat is completely eliminated as part of the recovery process. For instance, before you can move on from a malware infection and get all of your systems up and running again, you have to first confirm it has been completely cleared from every device.
Repair and Replace
Steps should be taken to repair or replace any damaged assets, whether they are IT components, structural repairs, or equipment. This is often one of the most expensive and time-consuming aspects of disaster recovery, so it’s helpful to prioritize assets based on their importance to operational continuity or safety.
Once you’ve achieved these major milestones, the disaster that you experienced should be evaluated to determine how future disruptions could be approached more effectively. As operations normalize, recovery teams should carefully document how the recovery efforts were handled, focusing on three central questions:
- What happened?
- What worked well?
- What didn’t work or could have worked better?
This assessment essentially restarts the disaster management cycle and allows you to improve your planning for all four stages in future events.
Protect Your Business from Any Disaster
From analyzing your risks to assessing your procedures in action, the four disaster management stages encompass everything your business can do to reduce the impact of an emergency event. Although it might seem daunting to tackle all of these stages in a single plan, breaking them down into manageable chunks and taking them on with a measured approach is the key to outstanding disaster management.
If you’re struggling with any phase of the disaster management cycle, reach out to the team at Invenio IT for support. Whether you want to book a demo of the best data backup solutions on the market or need help developing a training plan for your employees, the disaster recovery experts at Invenio IT are happy to help.