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A disruption or disaster can strike any business, large or small. It can arrive in the form of fuel shortages, severe weather, IT failures, fire, flooding or simply an electricity blackout.

If the incident is large enough it may put a business out of action for a long period of time. A business continuity plan can make all the difference to whether a business makes a quick recovery or is forced to close.

Previous incidents have shown that businesses who had a business continuity plan (BCP) in place were quicker to recover from the emergencies than those who had failed to prepare such a plan. Around 80 per cent of businesses without a business continuity plan affected by a significant disruption are forced to close within 18 months of the event taking place.

And 90 per cent of businesses who lose data as a result of a significant incident are forced to close within two years.

Emergencies can disrupt your business, affect your profits and damage your reputation, which is bad for your employees, shareholders, customers and local community. By being prepared you will be able to protect your business, reputation and staff. Without a plan a disaster, either natural or man-made could result in:

  • loss of work to competitors
  • failures within the supply chain
  • loss of reputation
  • human resources issues
  • health and safety liabilities
  • financial loss
  • higher insurance premiums

The key steps in developing BCP are to:

  • Analyse your business – How does the organisation interact both internally and externally? What services, staff and facilities are essential? This must be an objective exercise.
  • Assess the risks – How likely is it to happen? What effect will it have on the organisation? Ask yourself ‘what if...?’ questions.
  • By planning for the worst case scenario it will be easier to deal with low impact incidents.
  • Develop your strategy – Accept the risks or attempt to reduce them by making arrangements to cope with an emergency. The strategy depends on management’s ‘appetite for risk’.
  • Develop your plan – Plans should involve all parts of the organisation and external partners. They should be clear and easy to understand.
  • The plan is a ‘living document’ that needs to constantly evolve to reflect changes.
  • Rehearse your plan – This can be paper based, telephone cascading or full scale rehearsal.

The promotion of business continuity advice to the business and voluntary sectors was introduced as one of the seven new duties for local authorities, under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Specifically the Act requires local councils to provide advice and assistance to those undertaking commercial activities and to voluntary organisations in relation to BCP in the event of emergencies. BCP is seen as a way of building community resilience, a way of helping local organisations to help themselves, to reduce the economic impact of emergencies and to reduce reliance on public sector bodies. BCP will build stronger links with the business community and improve the local councils own emergency management arrangements.

Our role in BCP is as a catalyst, to raise awareness in the public and to be a conduit for information for all interested parties. We are not expected to be specific experts in this field, but are expected to join up with other initiatives – for example, town centre evacuation plans – and make this pertinent for local organisations.

Devon County Council has prepared a number of helpful leaflets and templates for small and medium businesses to use, available on the Devon County Council Business Continuity page.