Special Report: Salvaging Your Operations After Hurricane Katrina

Businesses will take months to recover from the enormous damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, but here are some things you can do immediately to stabilize your operations, says logistics expert Debra Ellis of Wilson & Ellis Consulting:

1. Hold shipments to the areas that were hit until you verify that customers can actually receive them. Check with your parcel delivery service to determine which areas are unavailable for delivery. While the carrier will hold the items in transit, this increases the possibility of lost shipments.

2. Reschedule any future mailings to the affected areas. Even if the pieces are delivered, odds are you won’t receive any orders unless you are selling generators or other survival equipment.

3. Once things begin returning to normal, establish a relationship with your customers. Send all customers in the affected areas a handwritten note expressing concern and hope that all is well. Offer your best customers a gift certificate or better yet, send them a gift.

How can you prepare adequately for disasters? As CIO and CSO magazines explain, disaster recovery and business continuity planning are two entirely differently things. The first deals with concrete steps to take after a catastrophe; the second is a long-term, formalized program that is instituted companywide and that swings into action when necessary. To establish the latter, it is essential to conduct a complete business impact analysis (BIA). A BIA will help companies set a restoration sequence to determine which parts of the business should be restored first.

According to research by the two magazines, these are the ten absolute basics that your business continuity plan should cover:

1. Develop and practice a contingency plan that includes a succession plan for your CEO.

2. Train backup employees to perform emergency tasks. The employees you count on to lead in an emergency will not always be available.

3. Determine off-site crisis meeting places for top executives.

4. Make sure that all employees-as well as executives-are involved in the exercises so that they get practice in responding to an emergency.

5. Make exercises realistic enough to tap into employees’ emotions so that you can see how they’ll react when the situation gets stressful.

6. Practice crisis communication with employees, customers, and the outside world.

7. Invest in an alternative means of communication in case the phone networks go down.

8. Form partnerships with local emergency response groups (such as firefighters, police, and EMTs) to establish a good working relationship. Let them become familiar with your company and site.

9. Evaluate your company’s performance during each test, and work toward constant improvement. Continuity exercises should reveal weaknesses.

10. Test your continuity plan regularly to reveal and accommodate changes. Technology, personnel and facilities are in a constant state of flux at any company.

CIO and CSO list the following as the top mistakes that companies make in disaster recovery:

Inadequate planning. Most companies are not aware of all the critical systems they have, what software resides on them, and how programs can be recovered to the current day.

Failure to bring the business into the planning and testing of your recovery efforts.

Failure to gain support from senior-level managers. This largely occurs because of lack of a BIA, gaps in the proposed recovery model, recovery plans that do not have specific time and business objectives, and not having enough funding to allow for a minimum of semiannual testing.

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