Ten years ago, on June 13th, Cedar Rapids experienced a “500 Year Flood” of the Cedar River, which normally flows gently within its banks next to our building. The event was ranked as the sixth largest FEMA Declaration in history at the time that it happened.
The sun was shining and it was a perfect summer afternoon. Yet, a series of weather events over the previous eight months would play a major role in what would be a defining event for GreatAmerica Financial Services. On this day, GreatAmerica would be displaced from our headquarters in downtown Cedar Rapids for approximately three months. Thankfully, we had a plan in place for this kind of event and it was the foundation of our survival in the wake of the historic flooding we would experience. While our plan worked, those three months out of our office taught us a lot and reinforced the importance of Business Continuity here at GreatAmerica.
Companies in all industries and of all sizes can face disaster—including office technology dealers. And while we hope you’ll never face a disaster, we’d like to share what we have learned in hopes that you can create a business continuity plan, as an “insurance policy” of sorts, in case you find your dealership in this unfortunate situation.
The purpose of this kind of plan is to help ensure business operations continue in case of an event or crisis. A lot of companies choose not to plan for crisis situations and instead hope it never happens to them. For those that choose to create a business continuity plan, it can be costly and/or consume a large amount of resources. It does not have to be that way.
Here are some suggestions we have for companies of all sizes and with a variety of budgets to be proactive with their business continuity planning.
1. Assemble a team.
Assign an individual to drive the creation of your business continuity plan and assemble a team of diverse individuals to serve as resources to that individual. Different perspectives will prove very valuable when solutions are evaluated and created.
Should your company need to enact your plan, it is likely one to two individuals can run the show – a representative from your Operations team and another from your Information Technology team. In most cases the owner/CEO would not be directly involved in the restoration of day-to-day operations but rather would serve as the primary decision maker required during the course of the event.
2. Assess your risks.
Consider both long and short term incidents that could happen and look into the likelihood of such events happening. What actions would you need to take to continue your business operations?
What severe weather events can occur in your region? What proximity risks does your business have (e.g. railways or interstates with hazardous material transport, high profile neighbors, etc.)? How accessible is your work place?
3. Identify your critical processes.
Decide which segments of your business are crucial to continuing day-to-day businesses operations and prioritize their restoration.
Critical processes may be procedures that service work, help desk, billing, installs, etc. You might choose to temporarily delay restoring segments such as outbound sales calls and human resources functions, until things stabilize.
4. Back up your data.
Is your data backed up on a regular basis? Do you practice your restoration process? Can you access your data from various locations? How long will it take for your data to be fully restored?
Collabrance, a subsidiary company of GreatAmerica and a Master Managed Service Provider (MSP), offers Backup Disaster Recovery (BDR). This is a full volume backup of business data and applications with redundant offsite retention. This service dramatically improves the odds of a complete data recovery after a disaster.
5. Consider an alternative location.
Have somewhere planned for your employees to go to continue working. This could be an arrangement with another business, a local community college, hotel or event center, an empty basement, or an open warehouse. This location should be at least five miles away from your original location to minimize the risk of both locations experiencing the same event. Keep in mind this distance may vary depending on your specific situation.
6. Have logistics laid out.
Know what your alternative location is capable of and how you can best utilize it to fit your needs. How many employees can transfer to the new location? How many can work from home? Do you need Wi-Fi or phone access?
7. Provide training.
Inform your employees of your plan ahead of time. Conduct training and provide useful tools to your employees to make sure they are prepared and know what to do in the event you experience and event or crisis.
8. Communicate during a crisis.
Keep your employees up to date about the situation. Frequent communication is important, especially early in the event. This may change over the course of your recovery depending on the circumstances. Evaluate whether and how you should communicate with your customers on your situation. Consider multiple mediums by which you communicate.
- Emergency Notification System.These systems allow for mass communication with your employees, customers, etc. via phone calls and/or text messaging. We utilize a product called One Call Now.
- Special purpose web site – GreatAmerica uses a low profile web site to provide our employees with timely and critical information related to our recovery efforts.
- Email – In the event this service is available, email serves as a very effective and familiar way to communicate with your employees.
9. Revisit your plan.
Don’t wait for an incident to occur, review your plan regularly to make sure it still suits your company’s needs. Also, communicate any plan changes to those impacted employees.
We have learned many things through our experience of the 2008 Flood. Both times we executed our plan and then updated it to ensure we are as prepared as possible. That said, our team meets regularly to discuss how we can adapt our plan to accommodate our current and future needs.
Every business continuity plan is going to look a little bit different, but the most important thing is that you have taken time to consider your risks, identify your business processes and assemble a plan you are able to execute should your business operations be impacted by something you hoped would never happen.
Resources: For more information about what to consider when creating a business continuity plan, check out this blog from Unified Communications and IT at GreatAmerica - Top Four Considerations for Business Continuity Planning.
Dave is the Director of Business Continuity for GreatAmerica Financial Services Corporation in Cedar Rapids. Dave has over twenty years of related experience in Project Management, Technical Training, IT Engineering/Leadership and most recently Business Continuity Planning. Dave has been a member of Iowa Contingency Planners since 2008. He holds a degree in Management Information Systems from the University of Northern Iowa and an MBA from the University of Iowa.