Commentary | Viewpoint

Ensuring Business Sustainability During Disasters, Disruptions, and Service Failures

Tags: Supply Chain Management, Risk Management

Kristi Montgomery is Vice President IT at Kenco Management Services, 800-758-3289

We have seen horrific natural disasters in recent years that taxed both supply chains and our core businesses. Approximately 85 percent of global supply chains experienced at least one significant disruption during 2013. This affects both an organization’s bottom line and its ability to be there for customers.

Businesses that survive natural disasters, operational interruptions, and service failures are ones that plan proactively. Managers at these companies know they must develop a business continuity plan well before a disruption hits.

Business continuity is activity that ensures critical functions will be available to customers, suppliers, regulators, and other entities. It is not something developed during a disaster. It is daily maintenance of service, consistency, and recoverability within an organization, and is much more than picking up the pieces after a disaster.

To avoid being caught unprepared, start developing a business continuity plan now. Though the process requires a significant investment in time and resources, getting started is simple.


Identify what needs the most protection by asking:

  • What are our critical systems?
  • What are our critical products or services?
  • Who are our key resources and stakeholders?


Next, gather a representational cross-section of staff to brainstorm all possible scenarios of failure. Think about factors both on the ground and in the cloud, such as access to your physical buildings and equipment—along with connections to data, servers, and the Internet. Build a matrix of risk and probability for the various failure scenarios.


Develop the plan


  • Create a matrix of accountability for each system/function. Include a decision-making chain of command.
  • Outline a process and contacts for both internal and external communications.
  • Determine which risks from the matrix must be covered. Do you prepare for all high, medium, and low-risk probabilities? Or, is it sufficient to cover just high-risk/high-probability scenarios?
  • Map the supply chain people/processes/data identified in your preparation phase.
  • Define recovery windows for each critical and key component.
  • Assess when, how, and where to replicate data.
  • Identify redundancy sources for physical sites, power, circuits, hardware, software, and operators.
  • Calculate resources needed for each section of the plan and how they can be sourced.


Train and implement


  • Start with internal training. All employees should know three basic things: Who to contact in an emergency; what to do; and what not to do.
  • The key players must be fully trained on all aspects of the plan, since they may be called upon to work outside their normal areas if co-workers are unable to respond. Pre-establish these roles, so gaps can be quickly identified.
  • Stakeholders must understand and support the plan.
  • Begin implementation by engaging suppliers to set up your redundancies.
  • Document these suppliers and create a matrix with 24/7 contact information.
  • Install needed hardware/software and set up your data synchronization.

    Don’t forget to test the plan not only within departments, but with annual company-wide drills. During testing, failures are really successes, because opportunities for improvement are presented and can be corrected. During real-life disasters, the situation reverses—failures can have extremely negative consequences. So, it is critical to debrief and update the plan after each test and drill.

    Even with the best advance planning, be prepared for surprises when a real disaster hits. As you work through the situation, focus on what is going well and make notes about what is not working as planned. The goal during a disaster should not be to blindly follow your plan. Instead, use both the plan and common-sense flexibility to communicate, cooperate, coordinate, and collaborate.

    Post-event assessments are vital. A business continuity plan rarely remains static. It needs to be re-shaped and updated constantly as your own systems, personnel, and response-scenarios change. Ensure there are resources assigned to maintain and update the plan.


    As you create your plan, you will be focused on the survival of your own business. But, don’t forget to take care of your people, protect your physical assets, and minimize the impact on your customers. Consider how to tap into your network to leverage sustainable business continuity.


    Remember, disaster recovery is a subset of business continuity. Many businesses have a recovery plan for hurricanes, tornados, or earthquakes, but what about an accidental gas main explosion that levels your corporate office, or a nationwide telecommunications outage? It is crucial to identify not just how you recover from a major natural disaster, but how your business remains sustainable throughout all types of disruptions.