Unexpected events can easily interrupt a business's daily operations and put its revenues, not to mention the safety of its employees, in jeopardy. Whether the cause is a massive power outage, a terrorist attack, a computer virus, or a natural disaster, every business faces the risk of being temporarily or permanently disabled by external forces. This year, Investors Title Company has undertaken a company-wide initiative to update and redesign our Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in order to ensure that our business can quickly recover from a disaster or interruption. We've learned a great deal from this process and would like to share some suggestions that would be helpful for any business to mitigate risks and cope with emergencies.
- Have an Emergency Plan – The key to surviving any emergency is to have a plan in place prior to the event. Employees should understand how they will be notified, when and where they will report for work, and what their responsibilities will be. Any plan should include current contact information for all staff members, building evacuation and assembly plans, and a structured approach to recover operations in a new location if offices are destroyed or become uninhabitable. In addition, any supplies or necessities such as blank corporate checks, procedural manuals, and customer lists should be kept at an off-site location to ensure their availability in an emergency.
- Computer Networks – For many businesses, their most valuable asset is the data contained on their computer network. Whether this data consists of customer lists, billing records, or work-in-progress, most companies could not survive without this information if it were destroyed. Computer networks are inherently vulnerable to many threats that would not otherwise affect the firm as a whole, such as power surges, computer viruses, and equipment failure. The best way to mitigate a computer network failure is to regularly back up the company's critical data to a disk or tape. In the event of a network failure, this allows network data to be restored as of the date the backup was made. Backup systems are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and provide one of the best insurance policies against a disaster.
- Physical Records and Documents – Another significant threat most businesses face is the loss of physical records and valuable documents. Many businesses keep historical corporate documents and records, stock certificates, deeds, original contracts, and files related to past transactions on-site. These documents could be destroyed if, for example, there was a fire in the office. Every business should take two easy steps to ensure that physical records are secure. First, develop a document retention policy that identifies which documents are valuable or important, how long they must be retained, and how to effectively store them. Next, protect the most valuable records either by storing them off-site in a secure location or on-site in a fireproof safe or file cabinet. Many companies provide document storage services for a nominal fee, and most banks offer vaults at a reasonable price for your most valuable documents and records.
- Office Security – Finally, inadequate building security is a common threat for many businesses. Thieves and vandals target buildings with the weakest security measures, which puts business operations and the safety of employees at risk. To guard against this, every building should have proper deadbolt locks, burglar alarms, and a security monitoring service. In addition, a process should be in place to ensure that all doors are locked and security systems are armed every night.
Although there are myriad external forces that pose a risk to every business, you can ensure that your business is able to recover from a disaster by following a few basic steps such as those outlined above.
Doug Burke is currently a second year student in the MBA program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a staff member of Investors Title, he has helped develop the company's Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans. Doug is a native of Boston, Massachusetts and is a graduate of University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Prior to enrolling in the MBA program, he was employed with Lehman Brothers in Boston.