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How to Create a Business Continuity Plan that Works: A 5-Step Guide

November 5, 2019

Businesses rarely get advance notice when disaster strikes. Without a plan of action, an organization can struggle to recover, or worse, go out of business for good. The good news is that organizations can help protect themselves from the consequences of disaster by developing a business continuity plan (BCP). This type of plan will give you the best shot at success after an unanticipated event. 

Follow this step-by-step guide to create a reliable plan that works. With a little creativity, dedication and planning, your organization will be on its way to a safer future in no time. 

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Business Continuity Planning 101: Your Questions, Answered

Before we begin, let’s look at the basics of business continuity planning. The following Q&A will help you gain a better understanding of this process and its importance.

What is a business continuity plan?

A “business continuity plan” (BCP) is a process that outlines the potential impact of disaster situations, creates policies to respond to them and helps businesses recover quickly so they can function as usual. A BCP is generally created in advance of a disaster and involves the company’s key stakeholders. The main goal of a BCP is to protect personnel and assets, both during and after an emergency.

What is an “emergency situation” in regards to a business continuity plan?

An emergency situation is an event where business cannot proceed under normal circumstances. This could consist of a natural event, like a fire, flood or tornado, but could also consist of scenarios such as a power outage, bomb threat, compliance breach, intruder or active shooter, cyberattack, employee injury or a change in the chain of command. No matter the situation, businesses should review potential threats and devise a BCP to ensure that operations proceed should a threat become reality.

What does a business continuity plan include?

Business continuity plans are complex and differ from company to company. You’ll want to tailor your plan to your organization’s specific needs. Here are some general examples of what a BCP may include.

  • Policy, purpose and scope
  • Goals and objectives
  • Key roles and responsibilities
  • Analysis of organizational threats
  • Risk mitigation plans
  • Plan activation protocols
  • Alternate operating strategies
  • List of tasks required to keep operations flowing
  • Communication and notification plans
  • Explanation of where to go during an emergency
  • Information on data backups and site backup
  • Offsite data and storage requirements
  • Training, drills and exercises
  • Plan maintenance protocols
  • Supplier vendor readiness
  • Coordination with local emergency personnel
  • Buy-in from leadership in the organization
  • Contact information of management personnel

Why do business continuity plans matter?

Business continuity plans are an important part of any business. Threats, disruptions and disasters can lead to a loss in revenue and higher costs, which in turn can affect profitability. Businesses can’t always rely on insurance alone, as insurance doesn’t always cover every cost associated with the incident.

A proactive plan can also benefit a business in these three ways

  • The business will feel more prepared to handle the unexpected.
  • The business will have a plan to continue providing acceptable service after the disaster.
  • The business will better preserve its corporate reputation, image and revenue stream.

5 Steps to Building a Business Continuity Plan

Don’t wait until disaster strikes to create a response plan. If your organization does not yet have an effective business continuity plan, now is the time to create one. The effort involved is well worth your time and will give your company the best chance at survival after an unexpected event. Here are the five steps involved in establishing a basic business continuity plan for your organization.

Step 1: Form the business continuity management team.

Your organization’s business continuity team implements and executes the business continuity plan. The makeup of your team is dependent upon the size of your company and how you plan to roll out the program. At a minimum, your business continuity team should include a manager, assistant manager and administrative assistant from each department.

These individuals will prepare standards for the project, train additional team members and identify processes to make the project flow smoother.

Download - Business Continuity Plan Outline

If your organization is medium or large in size, you’ll want to include additional personnel on the team and disperse responsibilities accordingly. The following list contains individuals in your organization who may provide crucial insight to your business continuity plan:

Building Maintenance and Management Provides insight on facilities, floor plans, fire suppression, electrical services and similar services
Safety and Security Teams Provides insight on fire/life safety, access control and theft prevention during an emergency
Risk Management Provides insight on minimizing costs and damage associated with loss
Human Resources and Operations Provides up-to-date information on critical stakeholders in the plan
Information Technology (IT) Provides insight on protecting/recovering data and IT systems
Line Management Provides insight on production continuation
Sales, Marketing and Public Relations Provides insight into the organization’s customers and their needs
Finance and Purchasing Provides insight on support the organization will need from vendors
Legal Team Provides insight on legal ramifications of activities performed in emergency response situations
Public Information Officer Provides insight on communication best practices with customers, stakeholders and vendors

Every organization is different, but in general, your business continuity team should have at least one representative from each department. This way, you’ll gain the greatest insight into your company’s risk management needs. Ensure your team consists of enough people to lay the groundwork for the project, coordinate training, build disaster plans and identify the focus of each segment of the plan.

Step 2: Conduct a business impact analysis.

Once your team is assembled, the second step of business continuity planning is understanding the operational, financial and physical risks to your company should a disruption occur. You can determine these types of risks through a “business impact analysis” (BIA).

At its core, an impact analysis helps organizations identify specific risks and threats to operations, financial performance, reputation, employees and supply chains. A BIA is a great starting point for risk identification and assessment.

members of an organization conduct a business impact analysis

Have your team brainstorm a list of risks and threats to your business. Use the following list of risk examples to aid your team in discussion.

  • Physical damage to buildings
  • Damaged machinery, systems or equipment
  • Restricted access to buildings
  • Interruption of the supply chain (including failure of a supplier or disruption of transportation of goods from the supplier)
  • Utility outage (e.g., electrical power outage)
  • Corruption of, damage to or loss of information technology (i.e. voice and data communications, servers, computers, operating systems, applications, and data)
  • Absenteeism of essential employees
  • Lost/delayed sales and income
  • Negative cash flow from delayed income
  • Increased expenses (e.g., overtime labor, outsourcing, materials, etc.)
  • Regulatory fines
  • Contractual penalties or loss of contractual bonuses
  • Customer dissatisfaction or defection
  • Delay of new business plans
  • Cyber attack or system breach

Once you’ve created a list of potential risks to your organization, discuss how these risks could affect operations. For instance:

  • What safeguards and procedures will your organization need to mitigate these risks? 
  • How will your organization test these procedures to ensure they work? 

Business impact analyses are complex and typically require a comprehensive questionnaire to gather the information you’ll need. We’ve assembled a sample business impact analysis questionnaire, which will help you better identify critical business processes, interdependencies among stakeholders, supply chain dependencies, minimum time needed to recover operations and minimum staffing required to support business as usual.

Download - Business Impact Analysis Questionnaire

Once you’ve received the completed questionnaire responses, review them and conduct follow-up interviews to validate information and fill any knowledge gaps.

Step 3: Identify resources needed with a gap analysis.

By now, your business continuity team has conducted an impact analysis, which identified and documented potential risks to your company in the wake of disaster. Your analysis may have revealed discrepancies between the resources you have and the resources you still need. This is where your team will want to conduct a “gap analysis.”

A gap analysis identifies a company’s recovery requirements versus its current resources. It also reveals recovery options and agreed-upon strategies. 

You’ll also want to identify critical resources you’ll need to recover from a disruption to business. Resources are required to carry out recovery strategies and to restore normal business operations. They can come from within the business or be provided by third parties. Resources may include:

  • Your employees
  • Your office space and furniture
  • Technology (including computers, communication equipment, software and data)
  • Electronic and hard copy records
  • Production facilities, machinery, equipment and physical assets
  • Inventory (including raw materials, finished goods and goods in production)
  • Utilities (including power, natural gas, water, sewer, telephone and internet)
  • List of current vendors and suppliers
  • Third-party service providers

It’s important to note that not all resources can be replaced immediately following a loss. Therefore, your business continuity team will want to identify any resources you’ll rely on within minutes, hours, days and weeks following an incident. After your gap analysis in concluded, you’ll be ready to explore and implement recovery strategies.

Step 4: Explore and implement recovery strategies.

Knowing risks to your organization is important, but knowing how to react and recover is essential to bouncing back after an unanticipated event. Step four of business continuity planning does just this; it identifies recovery strategies for your business and describes how to implement them.

Once your business is impacted and financial losses begin to grow, it can be difficult to recover without a plan. To illustrate, discuss the following question samples with your team:

  • If our facility or its equipment becomes damaged, how will we continue to meet the demand for products or services? 
  • Do we have a way to get HR, manufacturing, sales and support personnel up and running after a disaster so we can continue making money? 
  • If our facilities are impacted by a natural disaster, will employees work from home or at an alternate location?

an emergency response team responds to an event

Concerns such as these will be addressed in your business continuity plan. For each disaster scenario compiled in your business impact analysis, discuss any questions and concerns you may have regarding the circumstance. Document decisions in a flexible, circulating document.

Next, you’ll want to identify crucial partnerships, third parties and vendors involved in a disaster situation. Businesses rely on a wide variety of vendors to get the job done and help their facilities run more efficiently. They may collaborate with preferred contractors, inspectors, architects, plumbers, electricians, painters, mechanics, cleaning services and cleaning supply companies, all of whom may come in handy should damage occur to property. Your BCP should list applicable contact names, numbers and sets of information so they are easily accessible in an emergency. Read more on vendor management best practices here. 

Finally, you’ll want to take the time to discuss emergency response planning. Does your organization have an emergency response team? Who will serve on this team? How will responsibilities be allocated amongst team members?

Emergency response teams serve many purposes. They facilitate safety and security in an organization, but also collaborate with local emergency personnel to ensure they have up-to-date floor plans of facilities. Floor plans are crucial in an emergency, as they provide accurate egress plans in case of a fire, medical emergency, active shooter or another crisis. If you don’t have a documented emergency response team, download the “Emergency Response Planning Checklist”.

Download - Emergency Response Planning Checklist

Did you know?

Accurate floor plans and building data are crucial elements of business continuity planning. This information must be shared with local emergency personnel so they know how (and where) to access your building during a crisis. The good news is that a data collection service and location-based space and asset mapping software work in tandem to deliver the following.

  • Verify, update and digitize your existing facility floor plans
  • Recreate your facility’s floor plans if none are available
  • Collect room names, room numbers, room types, floor types and number of exterior doors per room
  • Record square footage of each room
  • Locate all electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and fire and life safety equipment within a room
  • Take a photo of asset name plates
  • Record asset make, model, manufacturer and serial number
  • Associate pertinent information to a single asset such as emergency shutdown procedures and O&M manuals
  • Collect and manage data for any new assets that are purchased or placed into service

A data collection contractor will expedite the implementation process by using cutting-edge technology to ensure accuracy and efficiency. The final deliverable is up-to-date floor plans, a cloud-based record of assets and an electronic documentation repository for O&M manuals, vendor information and historical work orders. Click here to learn more about the power of facility management software in business continuity planning.

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Step 5: Test results, present recommendations and make improvements.

A business continuity plan is never truly finished, since an organization’s risks and requirements are never set in stone. Rather, they change and adapt as the business grows. It’s always a good idea to test your business continuity plan to make sure it is effective, observe results and make recommendations for improvement. Here are a few ways to audit your business continuity plan.

  1. Assess your organization’s current policies, processes and procedures.
    Has anything changed since the plan was written? Does the plan reflect these changes? If not, make appropriate updates to the plan.

  2. Document any new gaps discovered.
    Are there any additional resources your team needs to mitigate risk? Discuss these needs with leadership.
  3. Formulate recommendations to improve.
    Bring these recommendations to the team, then brainstorm the pros and cons associated with each recommendation.
  4. Conduct training and awareness programs for stakeholders.
    Your business continuity team will require continuous training to stay up-to-date on the latest protocols. You may also want to host corporate awareness programs, orientation exercises, emergency responder training or emergency communication exercises.

  5. Conduct testing and document results.
    Do so through functional and technical practice training, program testing and business continuity audit processes. Note strengths and deficiencies of the plan.

Get Started: Here’s a Free Business Continuity Plan Outline

The subject of business continuity is expansive. With so many resources available on the internet, it can be difficult to know where to start. AkitaBox makes it easy; we’ve assembled a sample Business Continuity Plan Outline to get you started on the right foot. This outline will give you a better understanding of what information you should include in your business continuity plan, as well as what order you should follow.

You may also want to read about the benefits of facility management software for business continuity management. Start by reading the top nine features the best facility management software options have. You’ll learn more about location-based space and asset mapping, document storage, work order association, preventive maintenance planning  and more.

Download - Business Continuity Plan Outline

Meaghan Kelly

Former marketing content copywriter for AkitaBox.

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How to Create a Business Continuity Plan that Works: A 5-Step Guide

November 5, 2019
Meaghan Kelly

Former marketing content copywriter for AkitaBox.

Subscribe to the AkitaBox Blog

Be the first to receive the latest in facility management information, trends, and thought leadership