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Ready, set. . . exercise. Preparing for the next crisis.

May 27, 2011
Crisis management and business continuity planning became priorities for NICSA member firms in Kansas City this week as tornadoes moved through their area. We’re relieved that everyone is safe.

It’s fitting that the NICSA webinar on business continuity planning should have to cope with the unexpected: one of the speakers lost Internet connectivity just 20 minutes before the webinar was scheduled to start — which meant that she couldn’t see the PowerPoint slides that were being shown to the audience. It’s also fitting the panel had a business continuity plan in place: all of the speakers had been asked to print out the slide presentation — which meant that they could participate in the webinar with just a telephone connection, even without Internet access. Business continuity elements

Fortunately, everyone had followed instructions, so that when the unexpected happened, the business continuity plan kicked in. If you listen to the recording of the session, you’ll note that speakers always mention when they’re changing slides. That helps the Internet-less panelist follow along. (NICSA members can access the webinar archive for free here.)

Our webinar mini-crisis was a simple one, with an easy workaround. But our panelists from Capital Group Companies, Eaton Vance Management and MFS Investment Management talked about how complex organizations can handle much more devastating events in a way that minimizes disruptions to the business, its associates and its customers.

The speakers stressed that there are 3 keys to success:

  • Management commitment to the process is critical.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Complicated isn’t necessarily better. Start with the basics, then work to continually improve your plan.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise. (Think about the route to Carnegie Hall.)

Business continuity processThe panel also shared some of the secrets to success, garnered from their experiences responding to the unexpected:

  • Plan how you will prevent disasters from happening in the first place. Ask staff with symptoms to stay home during a flu epidemic. Have a backup generator if you lose power often.
  • Have a monitoring system in place, so that you’re not surprised when the crisis hits.
  • Speed of “event awareness” counts. Make sure you’re prepared to communicate quickly and accurately to the people who need to know.
  • Choose your response team carefully. Make sure that it’s not too big and that everyone on it works well under pressure.
  • Diagram the critical dependencies in your organization, because a picture is worth a 1,000 words.
  • Provide Cliff Notes. Put the “must-dos” for each individual in one to two pages. In a crisis, no one will have time to search through the entire business continuity plan for crucial information.

Most importantly, match your business continuity plan to your organization. Its basic principles should make sense to everyone.

Key Terms
Business continuity plan A plan for keeping your business operating through and after a disaster, such as a hurricane, earthquake, pandemic, building fire or flood or a critical equipment failure.
Disaster recovery plan The part of a business continuity plan specifically related to IT.
Application recovery plans The part of the disaster recovery or DR plan that explains how each technology application will be restored.
IT group recovery procedures The part of the DR plan that explains how the IT group will get back to work after a crisis.
IT DR run book The step-by-step processes that the IT department will follow in a crisis. The run book establishes a prioritization for system restoration.

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