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Disaster planning.

[check] This checklist aims to help those putting together a disaster plan for their organisation. It covers physical disasters such as fire, flood, or terrorist attack. Steps in crisis planning are the subject of a related checklist.

Having a disaster plan means that many decisions are made before the disaster strikes, so that the first crucial days after the disaster are spent on dealing with the situation and not on deciding how to deal with it.


A disaster plan (DP) aims to prevent or reduce the likelihood of a disaster by identifying threats and taking the necessary preventative action, and to ensure that the organisation is prepared to deal with an emergency effectively.

Benefits of disaster planning

In the event of a disaster, a DP:

1. supports continuity of operations

2. mitigates the financial consequences.

Drawbacks of disaster planning

3. Poor planning or an out-of-date plan may be worse than no plan at all.

4. The planning process can be time-consuming.

Action checklist

1. Establish a disaster planning team

This team should include staff responsible for personnel, buildings, public relations and IT as well as someone with general management responsibility. You may want to include an external adviser with experience of disaster planning. The appointment of a team leader and a deputy is vital. Senior management should make their commitment to the DP clear to members of the team.

Ensure that the needs of staff and other groups such as customers are taken into account. Identify and prioritise those activities necessary to business continuity--consulting staff throughout the organisation will help to establish a sense of ownership and commitment.

2. Carry out a risk assessment

Identify especially vulnerable aspects of your particular industry, operation or service and determine potential risks, both internal and external, for your organisation. Assess and analyse these and then act to eliminate or reduce them. Distinguish between areas needing immediate action (the repair of broken windows for example) and those which can be dealt with over a longer period (such as the installation of a burglar alarm or sprinkler system). List the extra resources required for these. Consider appointing a loss adjuster in advance so that the insurance claim process can start immediately in the event of a disaster.

Check and seek professional advice where necessary on:

* insurance cover--is the existing cover adequate?

* maintenance of buildings and equipment

* security--do the detection and alarm systems work? If you don't have any, should you consider installing them?

* safety and fire precautions

* storage systems--are important documents held securely? Is adequate off-site storage available for IT back-ups?

3. Draw up a disaster plan

The DP should be simple and easy to understand yet contain all necessary information. It must be developed with the worst case scenario in mind but be flexible enough to be used in less severe cases. Try to obtain examples of other companies' disaster plans and learn from these. Remember that the recovery from the disaster could take twelve months or longer.

The personnel issues to be identified in the DP:

* key personnel--ensure out-of-hours contact details, on a rota basis if necessary, are available

* their responsibilities and limits of authority

* a control centre for the team, preferably off-site.

The DP should contain:

* priorities to be dealt with--on the day, the next day, the next week

* floor plans

* evacuation procedures

* precautionary measures

* details of where further information can be found

* procedures for jobs to be done during the recovery period

* a directory of suppliers, to provide equipment and supplies for use in emergency, including the utilities--water, electricity, gas, telephones.

Anticipate the effects on employees, customers, suppliers and others. Consider:


--Make sure managers have employees' telephone numbers and addresses at home so that they are able to contact them out of work hours.

--Be prepared to offer counselling and other help to deal with the after-effects of a disaster, particularly if fatalities are involved.

--Communicate with staff--over-communicate if necessary--about progress, moving back into the building, safety, etc. Make sure staff know whom to contact if there's a problem.

--Make alternative arrangements for paying staff if routine mechanisms go out of action.

--alternative premises

--Investigate a reciprocal arrangement for space with other organisations.

*continuity of operations and the level of service to be provided--the organisation needs to be operational as soon as possible, preferably the next day

--Inform customers and suppliers and let them know where you can be contacted--customers will desert you if you are unavailable for weeks.

--Brief the public relations spokesperson to deal with the media.

--If still up and running, use your website to keep people informed. Update this information regularly.

--physical communications

--Investigate your telephone company's services--can they forward calls?

--Plan for an ad hoc telephone directory and make sure your switchboard personnel know what to tell callers.

--Decide where mail should be sent to.

* equipment and resources

--Identify critical documents and their location so that vital material can be retrieved from the damaged building.

--Store back-ups of material, including IT back-ups, off-site.

--Work out what resources are needed during the recovery period and ensure these will be available.

--Make sure cash is available at all times, but don't rush out and buy new equipment straight away--hiring may be a better option.

--Investigate the possibility of establishing a resource network and identify cooperative partners with whom equipment, storage and costs could be shared.

Keep copies of the DP in a number of locations.

4. Test the plan with a pilot group

This will help to spot whether anything has been overlooked and give an indication of whether the plan would work in practice. How long does it take to set up the control centre? Will the communication systems work, even in the event of a natural disaster? Are the alternative premises suitable? Amend the plan as necessary to take into account any problems revealed by the pilot.

5. Communicate and implement the plan

A presentation should be made by a member of the disaster planning team to ensure all staff are aware of and understand the DP, its objectives and what to do in an emergency. Training will be an on-going process with new staff, and 'rehearsals' of emergency drills and reaction procedures should be carried out at least once a year to serve as a reminder for existing staff. Deal with any worries staff may have.

6. Monitor, revise and improve the plan

The DP is not set in stone--it should change with the circumstances. At intervals, at least annually, test out both individual components and the whole plan, and revise as necessary, taking into account impacts of new developments, such as new technology. Review reported disasters to see what can be learned to benefit your DP. Communicate any changes to staff.

Dos and don'ts for disaster planning


5. Be prepared.

6. Learn from others' mistakes--and successes.

7. Involve staff.

8. Ensure all staff are aware of the plan.

9. Communicate--with staff, customers, suppliers.

10. Keep copies of the plan in a number of locations--it is no use if the plan itself is destroyed in the disaster!


* Be complacent--what if it did happen to you?

* Assume you've thought of everything--listen to comments and suggestions.

* Think of disaster planning as a one-off task--the plan must be kept up-to-date.

Useful reading

Tolleys handbook of disaster and emergency management: principles and practice, 2nd ed, Raj Lahka and Tony Moore eds Croydon: LexisNexis UK, 2004

Managing communications in a crisis, Peter Ruff & Khalid Aziz Aldershot: Gower, 2003

Disaster management: a guide to management and crisis communication, Chris Skinner and Gary Mersham

Oxford: OUP, 2002 Expecting the unexpected, business continuity in an uncertain world, London First, National Counter Terrorism Security Office and Business Continuity Institute

London, 2003 Business recovery planning in a week, Jacqueline Chapman, Chartered Management Institute London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2002

Thought starters

* Have you ever been involved in a disaster? What can you learn from that experience?

* If a disaster did hit your organisation, would it survive?

* What risks does your organisation face and what can be done to minimise them?

* Can you afford not to have a disaster plan? The costs of a disaster are not just financial--they include interruption to business, wasted time, lost opportunities and possibly closure.
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Title Annotation:Checklist 100
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Operations and Quality
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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