Preparing a Business Contingency Plan
While in normal times it can sometimes be difficult to take the time to stop and prepare a contingency (or business continuity) plan, the COVID-19 crisis has allowed several companies and organizations to realize the importance of having such a plan. This is normal, because when everything is going well, we don’t always see the need to plan for the worst. However, having a contingency plan is an essential element that allows companies to plan how they will react to crises and disasters that may occur. In this article, we present a few tips on how to write a contingency plan.
First of all, it is important to mention that a contingency plan does not have to be very long to be effective. In fact, the length of your plan will greatly depend on the number of employees in your company, the sector of activity in which it is active, the location, etc. But most importantly, there are certain elements to your plan.
1. List of risks that may threaten your business
Here you need to analyse the environment in which your company is located and identify potential risks. These risks can be categorized as follows:
- Natural: forest fires, floods, earthquakes, snow or ice storms, etc.
- Technical: prolonged power outage, gas leak, water damage, chemical spills, etc.
- Accidental: fire, cuts or burns from mishandling a tool or product, poisoning, etc.
- Human: Theft, vandalism, bomb threats, pandemic, terrorism, etc.
- Financial: increase in interest rates, cancellation of a financing program, loss of an important customer, etc.
- Reputational: security problems related to a publicly disclosed service or product, health problems, poor customer service, etc.
For each of the risks identified, you must then determine the probability of occurrence, your level of vulnerability to the risk, and the potential impact of the risk on your business.
2. Reducing risks
In this step, you should review all of the risks identified in point 1 and ask yourself how you could reduce, where possible, the chances of them occurring. For example, you could check all electrical wiring and replace it if necessary to reduce the risk of fire, make back-up copies of all important business documents (e.g., financial documents, employee records, etc.), you could move equipment that is located in areas that could be flooded, etc.
3. Prepare your response in a risk situation
In this section, you must plan what your company’s response will be, or more specifically, what actions will need to be taken by you and your employees to manage the crisis and ensure the continuity of the company’s operations until the situation returns to normal. Here are some examples of tools that can be easily put in place:
- Identification of a crisis management manager: this person will be responsible for coordinating the actions carried out in a crisis situation. In the case of a small business, this person will often be the owner, but for larger businesses, it can be a manager. Tasks can also be assigned to other employees;
- Procedure for evacuating your business premises: This procedure, which should identify all emergency exits and provide outdoor assembly areas, should be tested ideally twice a year;
- List of emergency numbers: emergency services, employees, major suppliers and customers, partners, insurance broker, company’s banking institution, etc.; and
- List of essential business operations and functions that must be restored to ensure the company’s functioning: this list must also specify the order in which these operations must be restored, who will be responsible for carrying them out, etc.
4. Train you employees
If necessary, you can train your employees or offer them training so that they are able to implement the emergency plan.
5. Update your plan annually
Each year, you should test and update your plan to ensure that its contents is still valid and that the planned responses to each risk are still valid.
In closing, this is just an outline of what your emergency plan should contain. Of course, there are various emergency plan templates available on the Web. When choosing your template, you should keep in mind that your emergency plan should be an easy-to-use tool with clear and simple information. After all, you’ll be using it in an emergency situation and in panic mode, so a plan that’s too complex and has several appendices won’t help you at all. Here are two suggestions for templates that you may find useful:
- Business Continuity Plan Guide (BDC)
- Business Continuity Management Guide for Quebec Small and Medium Enterprises (Government of Quebec) (in French only)
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