A Business Continuity Plan (BCP), also commonly referred to as a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), is an essential component for any corporate framework. A BCP ensures that your organization can continue to perform its critical tasks despite some form of disruption. Today’s corporate environment tends to focus on cyber threats as causes for disturbances, but natural disasters pose a unique threat to business functions, as they have the potential to impose cost and risks across various sectors of your organization. While both cyber threats and natural disasters can affect IT infrastructure, natural disasters also have the potential to directly impact the personal safety of employees and executives by creating unsafe conditions during commutes, at places of work, and even in employees’ own homes. A BCP that properly accounts for the repercussions of a natural disaster can give your organization a decisive edge over the elements that jeopardize your company’s ability to conduct day-to-day operations.
Corporate continuity planning should consider these three enterprise-wide impacts of a natural disaster:
- Personnel are the bedrock of every organization, and it’s crucial that a BCP accounts for massive disruptions that a natural disaster can wreak on the personal lives of all members of your organization, at every level of the workforce. A natural disaster can create extremely hazardous conditions that alter normal procedures and everyday routines, sometimes radically. In September 2022, approximately 2.5 million people in Florida were placed under evacuation orders while facing Hurricane Ian, a deadly category 4 storm. As seen in Hurricane Ian’s aftermath, many people returning from evacuation may face horribly disrupted lives and could be dealing with traumatic circumstances. These scenarios would affect business operations both during the disaster and potentially for long after, as personnel may be unable to work remotely while away or must wait until conditions are safe enough to commute to work or return home. They may also have to deal with disarray in their personal lives, such as home repairs or unsafe living conditions due to local infrastructure damage, before they are able to return to their regular work routines.
- Having a safe place for your organization to conduct business is essential for performing normal day to day functions; a natural disaster has the potential to compromise this necessity. As discussed above with personal residences, some disasters can devastate places of business. For example, 2021 wildfires in California damaged or destroyed 3,846 commercial and residential structures that laid in the path of the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. A commercial building ravaged by a wildfire, or another type of natural disaster can cause immense disruption to the businesses that utilize these buildings. Personnel would not be able to conduct typical duties in a destroyed or damaged building, impeding your organization’s ability to maintain standard operations. Additionally, if preparations have not been made in advance to relocate vital business materials, such as critical equipment or data storage drives, prior to disaster striking, they may be lost or damaged.
- A natural disaster may also harm IT infrastructure located in the office and the company’s information security measures. As people continue to put more and more of their lives online, individuals and businesses alike have become increasingly dependent on reliable IT infrastructure, a key component to any modern organization. And while IT personnel are constantly vigilant to keep their infrastructure secure from cyber threats, the threat posed by natural disasters requires a different mindset. On-premise servers in commercial buildings can be damaged or destroyed, along with data stored digitally that is not properly backed up to a server not impacted by the disaster, such as a server in another location or the Cloud. There is also the risk of being affected by more widespread IT disruptions, such as power outages. In February 2021, Texas suffered from an ice storm that brought unusually cold temperatures. This storm brought the state’s energy sector to its breaking point, and soon millions across Texas and bordering states suffered from blackouts that lasted for days. Unmitigated power outages can impede normal business operations for a prolonged period and could also impact your organization’s ability to keep data secure. Information crucial to business functions, or sensitive material that contains details of personnel, customer, or financial information, can be compromised if IT security functions lose operability due to a lack of electricity.
- Additionally, typical avenues of communication between personnel and from executives to employees can be hindered or completely cut off during power outages, making continuity of business operations increasingly difficult.
As demonstrated, natural disasters pose a great risk to commercial enterprises by creating chaotic and dangerous circumstances. For these scenarios, it is crucial to have a Business Continuity Plan that not only accounts for employees being away from the office for an extended timeframe, but also outlines a clearly defined line of succession for key positions, such as executive and IT posts, should certain personnel with critical functions become unreachable or otherwise unable to continue working. It is also important to have a plan that ensures that your organization’s most indispensable assets, both physical and digital, are secure in the event of a destructive natural disaster. By incorporating these considerations into your organization’s continuity planning, your company will stand prepared to overcome disruptive natural disasters.