November 2013 IT Business Consulting Newsletter

Dealing with Disasters via Preparation!

By Tom K

Last month I presented a methodology to help you define all of your potential Business Disasters, categorize them as preventable or non-preventable, and begin the process to eliminate those that can be prevented (see Dealing with Disasters via Prevention!).

This month’s newsletter continues with a discussion of how to deal with those Business Disasters that are out of your control and can’t be prevented, showing you how to mitigate their effect through structured preparation and planning.

Define, Categorize, and Prioritize your Business Disasters

In last month’s newsletter “Dealing with Disasters via Prevention” I showed you how to define all your potential Business Disasters and then categorize them as Preventable or non-Preventable. Then we ranked each categorized list using a 10-1 scale and discussed dealing with that 80% to 90% that could be prevented.

If you worked through the process, you also have a ranked list of all the potential non-Preventable Business Disasters that can affect your business. This is the list we’ll work with in this month’s newsletter.

Assign Ownership to the non-Preventable Business Disasters

As we did with the Preventable Business Disasters, work through the list of non-Preventable Business Disasters, determine which are most important to resolve, and assign ownership of each disaster’s remediation to one of your senior staff. It is now their responsibility to Prepare for this non-Preventable disaster.

Prepare means a Written Plan

You prepare for a non-preventable disaster by creating a written plan. If it’s not written down, it won’t help when chaos falls upon your environment. The plans will vary from relatively simple to quite complex, depending on the nature of the disaster. Each plan should be vetted and tested where possible and/or practical.

Three Phases of the Disaster Plan

There are three major phases to a Disaster Plan:

  • Pre Disaster
  • During Disaster
  • Post Disaster

The more complex plans will contain all three phases, but some may not require all three, again depending on the nature of the disaster.

Pre Disaster

In the Pre Disaster phase, you prepare plans to protect your assets. These assets include your guests, your employees, your inventory, your buildings, the contents of your buildings, and your vehicles. Depending on the disaster, these assets can also include business assets being managed outside your walls/control, such as web sites, Property Management software, linens, etc.

I’ve found that with complex plans that have to account for many of the assets noted above, separating each asset into a sub-plan and having the right department head write the sub-plan for their area of expertise makes the process much more manageable. The reservations dept works with the guests, operations works with staff, maintenance takes care of structures, IT takes care of your computing resources, etc. Just make sure one manager owns the disaster and manages the creation of the sub-plans.

I outlined a hurricane disaster sub-plan for IT that I published as a newsletter. This will give you an idea of what needs to be considered in creating a sub-plan. See my June 2013 newsletter, Hurricane Preparation and Remote Operations 2013.

Once each plan is created, it should be distributed to all the staff having responsibility for that disaster. The owner of the disaster (or the author of the sub-plan pertaining to this employee) should review the employee’s responsibilities for this disaster during the distribution process.

I like to provide a red binder to any affected staff, with dividers for each disaster they have a part in. When a disaster is impending, their minds are all over the place (home, kids, work) so make it easy for them to prepare. I also recommend placing bullet “to do” check lists at the front of each disaster in each employee’s binder. Make it easy for them to perform.

During Disaster

In this phase, you determine what level of service you expect to provide during any particular disaster. Will you try to remain fully operational, completely shut down, or operate somewhere in between? Once you make this decision, craft you plans to achieve your goals.

Most of our clients try to prepare for full operation when possible, often from a remote location with a skeleton staff. If this is a probable solution for your company, consider pre-prepping a remote location to accommodate your remote operations.

For our clients hosting their PM systems in house, we’ve set up Evac sites with business class broadband, a firewall duplicated from the main site, an Ethernet switch, UPS’, and at least one printer. All they need do is re-locate their server, plug in a few laptops (or PCs) & they are fully operational within ½ hr. Equipment costs for the full set-up is under $1000.

For our clients hosting their PM systems in the cloud, we’ve set up similar Evac sites with excellent broadband, a switch, and a printer.

The Evac sites are typically at friends’, relatives’, or associates’ properties in a “safe” location. These plans include prearranged forwarding of business calls to specific cell phones. Part of each plan should include which employees will staff the Evac site.

While some companies can operate out of a Starbucks with a laptop and a cell phone, the coffee bill will be through the roof in a few days!

Some clients try to maintain a presence at the main office during some disasters. If your company considers this approach, determine who will stay, and under what conditions. I’d suggest you consult your insurance company and possibly an attorney specializing in liability before you sanction anyone staying behind.

Post Disaster

In this phase, you plan the resumption of normal business. It should include the steps your company can take to aid in the recovery, based on varying levels of physical damage. It should also address remediation for damage to business operations and revenue flow.

Who comes back to work and when? Who focuses on guest issues, on homeowner issues, and on internal operational issues? Set priorities in the plan, so staff remains focused on YOUR priorities.

Specific staff should be assigned to work with the insurance companies and with your customers’ insurance concerns. While not directly responsible for insurance issues between guests or homeowners and their insurance carriers, answering questions and acting as liaisons when possible can develop huge loyalty factors. And, having specific staff that can succinctly discuss why your company is not responsible, and provide potential solutions and contact info to your customers, will improve your company reputation and PR.

The plans need to include vendor lists with contact info. You’ll want to establish commitments from your closest vendors to keep you at the front of their post disaster list. Some clients pay small retainers to guarantee they get preferential treatment after a disaster. The roofing companies get pretty busy after a hurricane!


Communications are a critical component of each phase. It is essential that your company maintain communications with employees, homeowners, and guests (current and impending) throughout these disasters. The plans should include which staff communicates with whom, and how the communications will take place. Make sure the plans include the means to update your web sites and blogs.

If you have any questions concerning creating structured plans to prepare for disaster, or need help creating these essential plans, I’d be happy to discuss your questions and needs at your convenience. Feel free to contact me at, or via my cell 443.310.5110.

Next month I’ll end the year with my traditional updated Year End Security Summary… Required reading for all!