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Business continuity: How to prep for winter

Winter’s coming, and according to the City of Ottawa, so are increased chances of encountering an emergency situation.

We’ve all heard the advice about householders stocking up on water, a few days worth of non-perishable food, flashlights, a radio, batteries, and a first aid kit, but businesses should also prepare.

Fortunately the City has lots of help available for businesses as well as householders on its website.

First, there is a schedule of “train-the-trainer” courses offered. And you can read how to prepare with the “Are You Ready?” booklet available at http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/emergency-services/emergency-services-and-preparedness/are-you-ready [1]

The booklet references a document that lists the suggested contents of a household emergency kit at http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/emergency-services/emergency-preparedness/emergency-preparedness-kit-checklist [2], and there’s also a version available for businesses at http://documents.ottawa.ca/en/document/emergency-preparedness-kit-checklist-businesses [3]

The one of main differences between the two lists is the concept that businesses prepare their essential business documents in case it has to be evacuated. You can get the City’s list of suggested business documents at http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/emergency-services/emergency-services-and-preparedness/essential-corporate-documents-and [4]

The main issue is that these documents might represent quite a bit of paper, and some are working documents that probably exist electronically on a computer. You have a couple of options to deal with this.

The first approach is to create a monthly paper backup, and keep it ready to go in a portable waterproof container (a large Tyvek 10×13-inch catalogue envelope or a plastic courier package would be good choices). That way your backup records would never be more than a month old, and you could archive these for a complete month-by-month archive.

The City suggests using a portable plastic file box for your documents, but that means working out of it. Not too practical for any business with more than a few documents.

And both of these are pretty old school.

A better method might be to scan PDFs of any documents that exist only on paper, and save electronic backups of your lease/s, insurance policies, accounts, supplier contacts, contracts, reports, spreadsheets, etc. on a backup system. While you should save your important data files and databases, a good assumption to make is that you won’t have access to any specialized software that your business currently uses during an emergency. That might mean that you should generate reports from your accounting system, exporting customer lists from your CRM, etc.

Even if your business already has a backup system, you might not be able to take it with you quickly, especially if it runs on a server connected to your LAN (such as network-attached storage devices or subsystems).

You could supplement the backup system with cloud-based storage, or even a USB drive that fits in your pocket for emergency use.

But no approach will work well unless you take the following steps:

With any luck you’re never need to use any of this. But, it’s like any other kind of insurance — better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.