Thursday, April 17, 2008

Develop Your Emergency Plan, Part I

There is no excuse for being unprepared. We live in a world of constant uncertainty. Natural disasters, acts of terrorism, prolonged power outages and other horrors can be just around the corner. Are you ready? Can your business survive a major catastrophe?

What about key personnel? What happens if one of your senior managers is hit by a bus? Or is stuck at an airport half-way around the world with no cell phone? Does your business ground to a complete halt when key personnel are missing? What happens when you are away from your desk?

To avoid these problems, the simplest solution is to develop a Business Emergency Plan. The first stage of this plan is to collect the most vital, day-to-day information and store it in one place. At R-Squared, we literally maintain a three-ring binder with all critical information stored inside. Now, my office staff doesn't need to call me for information, they just refer to my three-ring binder.

No matter what kind of solution you ultimately choose, you should always, at bare minimum, retain the following information:

CONTACT INFORMATION (updated weekly)

  • Clients or customers
  • Vendors (for all accounts payable)
  • Support personnel (attorney, CPA, IT consultant, off-site storage contact, independent contractors, employees, etc.)
  • Hot or warm prospects
  • Contact & collections information for your Top 20 accounts receivable.

(updated weekly, at minimum!)

  • Bank account numbers and bank contact information
  • Insurance account numbers, agent contacts and the 800-number to report claims.
  • You should also include a copy of your policies, if applicable.
  • Payroll records (if processed on-site)
  • Past three months' balance sheets
  • Current aging on accounts receivable
  • Current status of accounts payable
  • An inventory of all assets, including location. Include anything kept off-site, such as in storage, at a warehouse, in a safe deposit box or at the attorney's or CPA's office.
  • User names, passwords & applicable websites

(updated monthly)

  • Appointments and/or bookings
  • Calendar of events for any major customer, with financial and/or legal deadlines.
  • List of big upcoming projects and goals. In the aftermath of a tragedy, this will allow you to focus on important issues instead of the crisis.

There are high-tech and low-tech ways to retain this information. Lowest-tech, as described above, is practically no-tech: keep printouts of essential documentation in plastic sheet protectors in a fat three-ring binder. If you run a one or two-person operation, one binder should suffice, and will be invaluable. If you have a larger staff, insist that each employee, or at least each major player, to maintain his/her own binder.

High-tech options mean you can store this data to external hard drives or flash drives stored off-site, or even internet vaults to which you can securely upload your information. I'm a big fan of USB flash drives because of their portability, price and ease of use. Yesterday, I saw a 1 GB flash drive for $9.99, so price is not an objection.

Everyone will complain at the additional work, but keep on top of them. Make it clear that this is not optional, and that you will be conducting spot checks of employee binders to ensure they are up-to-date.

Be aware, this is just the first step in a complete disaster recovery plan. This article only covers the primary objective of a recovery plan, which is your immediate business activities, and planning around difficulties relating to individual employees.

Click here to read Part II.

Additional Resources
Be sure to review Ready.Gov for additional information courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security.

If you would like some help developing your disaster recovery plans, contact us. Since we're from Florida, we know all about disasters.

R-Squared Computing - Business Technology Experts

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