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Tips for disaster recovery planning

All business runs the risk of some sort of disaster that could throw your endgame into turmoil. An effective, realistic, frequently revised disaster recovery plan is essential.

Accidents do happen, freak storms do happen, and, unfortunately, deliberate sabotage does happen. Some things cannot be avoided but how you handle the end result makes all the difference in the world. A contingency plan often nips panic in the bud, because panic may see a serious situation snowball into a critical one, even worse a fatal one.

It's much better to 'waste' some time putting together something you may never need, than not having anything in place if the worst does happen. Here are some practical steps for writing a basic disaster recovery plan that can be tailored for any business.

Assess the risks that apply to you
Generic risks apply to all premises, storage facilities, and workshops etc. The risks include natural disasters (fire, flood, gas leak or explosion, even a terrorist attack). Give each risk a ranking to indicate severity and relevance to your business--for example, if the business is located on a flood plain, this is assessed as one of the highest risks.

Another generic risk, applying to all businesses, whatever their sector or location, is crime. Utilise and work in conjunction with the local crime prevention officer. Keep up to date with ways to reducing the risks of business crime. Seek professional advice on what is the best security solutions for out of hours times. Be vigilant! Forgetting to switch on an alarm can void an insurance policy.

Compile a list of key people needed to be contacted in an emergency. This might include key staff, utilities companies, suppliers and customers, as well as your local crime prevention officer and your insurance company.

Protect your vital data and documents
Back up ALL data, ALL the time. Set aside a regular weekly interval and make it compulsory for you or another staff member to take care of it. Burn CD copies of all your important computer data. Get an external hard drive, store it on another computer, just get the backup done. Practice restoring this data on another computer, and make sure all backups are stored away from your normal business premises.

A virus hijacking your entire network or wiping key files is a disaster that could affect any business using a computer. Keep your machines up to date with new security patches. Be sure you have a clear policy on surfing websites and opening suspicious e-mail attachments, so that your staff don't inadvertently infect the system with spyware, a worm or worse.

Even with paper documentation, copies of anything important should be made, and paper files should be stored in waterproof and fireproof units or containers. Away from the normal workplace. All the backup in the world is no use if it gets burned along with the original.

Know the insurance policy and know it well. Too often, business owners file away insurance documents without taking the time to read them. Know exactly what's covered, who to call in an emergency, and keep copies of the relevant details off site.

Keep a good inventory of everything on your premises, include equipment (such as PCs, photocopiers and product-related machinery), products in storage, and any other assets. This makes it easier, and less stressful, to record what's missing or damaged in the event of a destructive event.

Practice your plan
Regular drills practicing different emergency scenarios will need to be scheduled. Assess how your staff cope, if the backup systems work, and how to prioritise key activities. For example, is getting the premises cleaned up and running again as soon as possible? (this would certainly be the case for a restaurant or café), or would an alternative site be possible to start trading again? (which might apply if you're a home-based consultant and your home burnt down)

Keep the disaster recovery plan off-site as well as on, and make sure all relevant staff are familiar with it. Plans on the walls noting emergency exits and rendezvous points is a constant reminder for everyone, work well. Know which staff are present everyday in case a head count is needed to know a dangerous area is fully cleared. Keep a constant eye on the day-to-day running of the business to see all health and safety guides are followed, and security measures are being met.

Sources of further information
London Prepared has a great business continuity planning guide, complete with a ten-minute online assessment of your own business. No matter what your location, check it out at www.londonprepared.gov.uk/businesscontinuity/

Continuity Central is a one-stop resource for disaster planning, providing international, national and regional news, factsheets, directories and courses.
www.continuitycentral.com

Antivirus firms McAfee and Sophos publish regular IT security updates online, and tell you where to find the relevant patches and protections from new threats.
www.sophos.co.uk
www.mcafee.com/uk

Here's a lighter look at the subject. This spoof site was set up just after the Government released its advice on preparing for the worst distributed to households across the UK: www.preparingforemergencies.co.uk

The official Government advice is accessible at:
Website: www.preparingforemergencies.gov.uk
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