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A good business will not suffer continuity issues in the event of a communications disaster. This is not because there are any 100% guarantees that can prevent a disaster from occurring – unfortunately there aren’t any of those – but because a good business is a prepared business, and will have a solid, actionable plan in place should the unthinkable happen.

Planning for how communications will continue following a disaster is one of the most important elements of a business continuity management process. If a natural or IT disaster strikes, the need to communicate is immediate. Business operations may be interrupted, and customers and clients will need to be informed and told how they will be impacted. In some cases – especially if the disaster is as a result of a security breach – certain authorities and regulators will require to be notified.

Employees will also need to be reached, particularly if there any working in the field, and informed how communications will take place during the outage to ensure business continuity. It will also be important to notify any neighbours of the business – either other companies working in the same office block, or indeed any domestic neighbours who might be affected.

The make or break of a business

Despite the glaring attendant risks, it is in fact not uncommon for many organisations to have little or no contingency measures adequately mapped out for their communications in case of a system disruption or major disaster. This, very simply, is not good practice.

A disaster of any kind could strike at any time, and a good, prepared business should not need a catastrophe to occur before a decision is made to prepare for another one in the future. Indeed, in many cases, there might not be a future at all for the business. If the disaster results in data loss, it is estimated that 90% of businesses are forced to shut down within two years of the event, whilst 50% of businesses that experience a computer outage will be forced to shut within five years.

There are many reasons for this, and not least is the damage to reputation. In the event of a disaster, there are many people who will need to be reached, and, for business to continue relatively as normal until the recovery is complete, there are many avenues that must be readily available that all staff are prepared and trained to use. Needless to say, the image of a business will be affected by its ability to handle a crisis – whether this is a positive or negative affect, however, will ultimately be determined by the robustness and execution of the disaster recovery plan.

Developing an emergency communications disaster recovery plan – A step-by-step guide

It’s an old adage, but those that fail to plan do indeed plan to fail. We don’t want this to define your business, and so we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to help you form your very own communications disaster recovery plan.

You will see that the trick in forming an effective plan is in being as thorough as possible. Remember, that you cannot over-plan for a disaster, and so the goal is to try and be exhaustive in your preparations – it could save your business, and the livelihoods of your employees.

So, let’s get into it.

Understand your connectivity and identify the phone numbers you own

This is the very beginning of formulating your plan. Before you start working out what to do in case of emergency, you first need to identify what you have in terms of communications infrastructure. So, to begin, draw up a spreadsheet that catalogues the answers to the following questions:

  • What telephone numbers does my company own?
  • To where does each number ring when called?
  • What is the internet connectivity at each of my company’s sites?

With these questions answered and drawn up clearly, you will be able to see precisely where you are currently relying on your communications, and you can start to consider what might need to happen should some or all of these be lost.

Document your inbound call routing

Now is the time to go through each of your numbers and communication portals on the spreadsheet you’ve just created, and work out how calls are received to your company.

How are calls routed after they are initially answered? You might have an interactive voice response system (IVRS) that directs calls automatically, a receptionist who directs them manually, or you might have a system that drops callers directly into call queues or ring groups. On your spreadsheet, make a note of how a call flows through each department in your company, from the time the phone rings to the time the call ends.

Document your outbound call routing

Now you need to repeat step 2, but this time focus on how your outbound call traffic is handled.

What do your staff members need to do in order to make an outbound call? Do they have to dial 9 to get an outside line? Do they have account codes that need to be entered to call long distance numbers? Document the procedures that must be followed to make an outbound call under normal circumstances so that you will know how the procedure differs during a disaster.

Identify key communication personnel

Usually, there will be a certain amount of staff members who handle the majority of calls in your organisation. Identify these people and make a note on your spreadsheet. In the event of a disaster, it will be these team members who will face the brunt of handling communications, and so it will be no good if they are not adequately trained beforehand as to how your voice services will change during the event. So, once you’ve identified these key personnel, you will know on whom the training efforts will need to be most highly focussed.

Understand your connectivity requirements

No doubt the frequency of your communications will fluctuate on a daily and monthly basis. For instance, are there some areas within your business – such as payroll or accounts – that typically function at a higher operational activity than any others? Do you normally expect a key period of trading during Christmas, or are the summer months the busiest period for your business?

Sometimes a disaster might strike because your connectivity simply isn’t robust enough to handle a spike in calls or traffic. So, ask yourself, is your current system up to the task? Do you, for instance, have a strong service level agreement (SLA) with your provider that guarantees that a certain level of service is maintained at all times? What about the restoration period in the event of a major service outage (MSO)?

At this stage of your plan, you need to take these considerations very seriously indeed. Locate all documentation from your supplier, and ask yourself the question – is this good enough?

Identify threats

Now that you understand your connectivity provision and how calls are handled by every department, identify any weak points that could cause your communications process to break down. List the types of problems that might disrupt your business.

Consider what might happen if:

Key personnel are not available

In the event of a disaster, you don’t want to be in a situation where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. You need to prepare for the worst case scenario, which might be that the key personnel are not available. This will mean that you will need to train additional staff members to answer calls on the emergency system. It’s always better to have this extra support and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

In this respect, are there any other provisions that you can take? For instance, can call forwarding or diverts be activated to direct calls during the crisis? Put simply, you will need a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C to ensure that all bases are covered.

Most staff are unable to get to the office

Sometimes, it might simply be a lack of available staff that can all of a sudden impact a business’s ability to operate. Staff absenteeism can happen due to ill health, pandemics, extreme weather that can make commuting difficult, or even your own company functions. No matter why absenteeism might occur, you need to ensure you understand the impact it will have on your ability to handle and route calls, and what you will do about it if this occurs.

Your office is closed

Not a standard disaster by most definitions, but how a call gets routed when your office is closed – be it outside of business hours, a holiday, or because the office is inaccessible for whatever reason – is important to keep your customers happy. With sales lines in particular, you need to ensure that your business can continue to make money during these times.

Are your customers aware that your office is closed when they call in? Are they able to reach the right department on their own, or are they directed to a general delivery voicemail system and left feeling like nobody will ever return their call? Little things like this can damage the reputation of a company no end, and if multiple customers are affected, then the long term effects may indeed be disastrous.

Your phone lines are dead

Maybe someone has cut the wrong cable, or a disaster has damaged your office location. Whatever the case may be, how does it impact your ability to do business if you pick up the phone and have no dial tone? Do you have any single points of failure that need addressing?

Consider solutions

By now you should have a very clear idea as to what might go wrong, and indeed where it might go wrong. So, now you need to consider the solutions.

Manual or automatic failover?

If a disaster strikes, what is the process of switching over to your standby server/system/network? The difference between manual and automatic failover plans is that, as you will infer, an automatic failover operates without warning, whereas a manual failover requires human interaction/authorisation. If your business absolutely requires continuous availability, then an automatic failover solution will be your best option.

SIP trunking

SIP trunking offers exceptional resiliency in the event of disasters and should be seriously considered as an important component in disaster recovery/business continuity planning. The key characteristic that makes SIP trunking so useful in the event of a business disruption is that there is no circuit – that is to say that there is no “line” that is a single point of failure that can be cut.

Inbound call management services

Switching to a third party call management portal during disruptive incidents may be an option for you. This Plan B, or backup line, can be automatically configured to launch into action during a disaster, thusly ensuring business continuity during the outage.

Hosted PBX

If you have moved your telecommunications system to the cloud with a Hosted PBX system or similar, then your essential voice communication tools are handled off-site in a secure environment, away from any natural or man-made occurrences that can threaten the continuity of your business operations and communications. This is definitely a preventative solution worth considering.

Develop and share your Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP)

Now is the time that you pull down all the information that you’ve been listing in your spreadsheet and any other notes that you have made. Combine everything into a detailed and defined DRP and distribute it to everyone who plays a part in the plan’s execution. Any training that needs to be administered should be organised straight away, and all members of staff need to fully understand the seriousness of the plan.

Your DRP will also need to be accessible during a disaster. This means that physical as well as digital copies of the plan need to be created, and should be stored both on and off-site, so that they are always obtainable even if the office becomes inaccessible.

Next steps

If you need any further help or information about developing an emergency communications disaster recovery plan, then you should get in touch with us, as we’re always on hand to help. You can also request your free DR consultation with one of our expert team.

In addition, if you think that any of the solutions that we’ve outlined in this post will be of use to you, then you can use our Get A Quote page to make contact with our dedicated team, who are always available to give you an honest and professional no-obligation consultation.