Disaster recovery plan template and writing tips

Tragic events are a part of life. While we can't predict them, we can prepare for them. Here are some tips on how to write a disaster recovery plan that will keep your home or business operating during and after such events.

Need a template for your plan? You can find one here.

Identify essential functions

Start by creating a checklist of the functions necessary for your organization or home or business to stay up and running. Don't forget important details such as:

  • Electrical or generator power - Necessary to keep other systems up and running.
  • Heating and cooling - Procedures for fuel and heat sources, or cooling units that can run on generator power if necessary
  • Communications - Enables continuation of customer service, and important for maintaining communications with outside emergency contacts. Phone lines, mobile, and Internet communications should be considered.
  • Transportation - Includes keeping vehicles and other modes maintained, but also ensuring that roadways, parking, railways, etc. are accessible and passable.
  • Facilities - Waste disposal, depends on power to pumps, etc.
  • Lighting
  • Food and water
  • Backup process for all computer data - Verify that IT systems are on automated backup to prevent data loss. Archive important documents regularly.
  • Paperwork - Safe storage of critical paper documents.
  • Contact information - Storage information for important contact numbers, email addresses, etc. in an easy-to-find location so they can be found quickly.
  • Employee information - Necessary for verifying all employees are present and accounted for.
  • Designated safe zones - Ensure that all people are trained to move to a predetermined safe location in an emergency.
  • Details for various types of disaster - What do do in a fire, tornado, power loss, etc.
  • Availability of plan information - Ensure that your plan is posted in an easy-to-locate area. Document the location and purpose of any supporting documents for essential systems. For example, you don't want to waste time hunting for instructions manuals for your telephone system when that system has failed.

Now that you have a list of all critical functions, determine the possible risks that would inhibit those functions. What impact will the failure or loss of such systems have on your home or business? Think through any potential solutions so that you can include them in your plan.

Identify key stakeholders

Assign or identify key people for handling recovery tasks and keep them involved in the process of drafting the recovery plan. They may offer valuable feedback about the details they'll need to handle a crisis. Involve representatives from all departments when identifying risks. Each department will have different requirements for ensuring business continuity, and managers from inside each department will be better equipped to identify those needs.

You'll need to exercise your political skills. To write a thorough disaster recovery plan, you'll need to coordinate with people across many departments. Your ability to grease the wheels and extract information will be essential.

Write your plan

When you begin writing your plan, start with a thorough template. A template will help you create a robust and useful plan, and minimize the time you devote to tasks such as formatting and document organization. You can get a disaster recovery plan template here.

Focus on clarity and brevity as you write all of the important details into your template. Draft each section of your plan knowing that the reader may be in a deeply emotional state and in a hurry to find information. Simple language is best, and navigation is vital. Provide a clear Contents section so that the reader can find relevant information quickly.

Samples of disaster recovery plans

You can refer to the following samples when drafting your plan.

Implement training

The preparedness of your family, employees, security and facilities staff, etc. will greatly determine whether your plan can be executed effectively. Take time to drill them on the important details so that they know what to do in the event of a disaster.

Remember, traumatic events can have major psychological effects on people. Employees will be torn between their own safety and those of their loved ones, who they may be unable to contact. You can't count on your staff or family reacting appropriately based on a single instance of training. Instead, work to ensure that the appropriate reactions become innate, so that safety is assured even when confusion and fear are impacting judgement.

Consider leveraging outside resources to help train your people. Local fire and safety officials may offer sessions for large groups, and will likely have training materials to help you cover the appropriate content. Also consider any outside services that may help secure your company's data and other valuable resources, assist with security in the event of a disaster, and so on. Don't feel that you have to handle everything yourself.

Test your plan regularly

Practice handling disasters by executing your plan during scheduled drills. Make sure you clearly notify employees of the drill ahead of time; remember, you are training them, not trying to instill the fear that comes with a real disaster situation. Also, you want to ensure that any outside authorities (fire, police, etc.) are not caught off guard by any communications made during the drill.

Your test should include moving people to established safe zones, verifying that all systems (backup power, etc.) work as expected, and that everyone is safe and accounted for. Often managers for each area of a company are designated to track that everyone has reached the designated safe zones or there location and status is known.

Keeping your plan updated

Revise your disaster plan based on actual testing. A live test of the plan will reveal any flaws, so that you can make improvements based on real data.

Establish a time frame for reviewing and updating your plan, and build such maintenance into your regular workflow. That way you can compensate for any changes in your essential business functions, environmental changes, regulations, and so on.

Books for further information

You may find the following resources helpful in preparing your plan:

  • "Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning for IT Professionals, Second Edition" Sep 24, 2013 by Susan Snedaker
  • "The Disaster Recovery Handbook: A Step-by-Step Plan to Ensure Business Continuity and Protect Vital Operations" Dec 1, 2010 by Michael Wallace and Lawrence Webber
  • "Disaster Response and Recovery: Strategies and Tactics for Resilience" Oct 20, 2014 by David A. McEntire

These tips will give you some guidance on how to write a disaster recovery plan that will keep your organization operating after a crisis.

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