When the worst happens, businesses need to be ready to move

The Boston Marathon explosions reinforce the need for ensuring you have back-up ‘alternate work sites’ as part of your business continuity plan. Start with these 10 steps

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Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the two bombs that detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. The blasts killed three people and injured at least 144 others.  Storefront windows of nearby business were blown out. Within minutes it was reported fifteen blocks of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood were closed off as a crime scene while investigators gathered evidence related to the bombing, sending business into chaos.

At one point the Associated Press reported that Boston Police had ordered a shutdown of cellular service throughout swaths of the city – perhaps out of fear that additional explosive devices may be rigged to detonate explosives using a remote trigger – and increased security details everywhere. Meanwhile, landline and wire line telecommunications were heavily congested with traffic and the use text messaging, instead of voice calls was the required protocol because it uses less bandwidth.

So what do you do if your business has been impacted?  What do you do if you have been evacuated from your place of business and you have great challenges in communicating with all stakeholders? Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts said shortly after this event occurred, “It shakes people and certainly those businesses in that area are going to have a bit of a recovery. We saw it certainly with 9/11 here in Boston when we were so much on lockdown here for a while.”

As a business continuity practitioner I would suggest you open your business continuity plan (BCP) which outlines how your organization can respond to events that significantly disrupt your business. Activate the section that deals with relocating your business (workspace) to an alternate site if the primary site is affected by a significant disruption (unavailable for extended periods of time).  Alternate work space is defined as an office (business) recovery environment complete with necessary office infrastructure (desk, telephone, workstation, and associated hardware, communications).

A BCP need not be specific to terrorist incidents but apply to any major disruption such as a major fire, flooding or permanent power failures. Given the scope and severity of recent events (G20, 911, SARs, power blackout of 2003, H1N1) having an alternative worksite is not only a ‘good business practice’, but an essential risk mitigation strategy as a key element of Business Continuity and in in some industries the decision to maintain an alternative worksite is not a choice but a critical requirement.

For Allstream, for example having duplicate Networking Operating Centers (NOC) is a must to monitor and manage the network under all operating conditions thus ensuring customers have uninterrupted high performing telecom services. When planning for an alternate location in your business continuity plan, consider the following guidelines:

  1. In your BCP, include an emergency communication notification to employees and all other key clients, vendors and other stakeholders. Consider websites and social media messaging in the event of a business disruption.
  2. Ensure the facility addresses all staff safety and security needs.
  3. The facility must have the ‘work space’ for essential staff (as identified in your BCPs) for recovery of time-sensitive business functions, including meeting rooms to entertain customers or guests. Note that telecommuting (working remotely from home) is a strategy to consider.
  4. The infrastructure at the location must have the needed electrical and HVAC capacity.
  5. The BCP should address information technology processing requirements including access and delivery of data backup copies of your business information data and platform).
  6. Telecommunications (voicemail, email, and fax) are pre-arranged for ‘on demand’ use.
  7. Proximity to primary work place must have suitable geographic separation and there should be adequate parking, lodging and food services including access to public transportation and capabilities for the physically challenged.
  8. Purchase business interruption insurance, including costs to relocate.
  9. Become familiar with the alternative work location. Hold annual tests/exercises to validate the location functionality, training of staff and to identify other gaps in advance (examples: hubs, cables, access cards, transportation, printer configurations).
  10. The BCP should have tasks/actions to seamlessly return and restore the business back into the primary location after the event.  This can be a disaster in itself if not planned for.

You can’t predict an emergency, but you can plan for one.

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