Have you heard of the Waffle House Index? Every time a hurricane threatens the coast, this term becomes prominent in the news. It’s an informal measurement used by FEMA to determine the severity of a storm. The Waffle House business model is that of a restaurant open 24/7—meaning that anything different is an indication of the size and scope of a disaster.
Here in the Midwest, we don’t have to worry too much about hurricanes shutting down the Waffle House. What we do have to be concerned about, however, are disasters both natural and man-made. In this region of the country, flooding, severe storms, and tornadoes are common threats. Our proximity to the New Madrid Seismic Zone means that earthquakes are a very real possibility, as well. And of course, building damage from fires or flooding can happen anywhere. For that matter, let’s not overlook the very real threat of human error.
For small and midsize businesses, the unofficial Waffle House Index is actually a good model for disaster preparedness.
Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
Disaster preparedness is critical to the long-term survival of your business. FEMA estimates that between 40% and 60% of businesses never recover after a disaster. If you don’t want your business to be a statistic, you need to prepare for a disaster well ahead of time.
Some disasters, like severe weather, often come with advanced warning. Others, like an employee triggering a malware attack, can be unpredictable. A comprehensive disaster recovery plan will help your business be prepared no matter what form a disaster takes. In addition to helping your business avoid a significant operational and financial crisis, a thorough disaster recovery plan can:
- Reduce the likelihood of incidents
- Reduce operational disruption
- Protect business assets
- Minimize on-the-fly decisions
- Reduce legal liability
- Ensure employee and customer safety
- Outline procedures for decision-making during the event
- Provide a path toward orderly recovery
Without a comprehensive plan, your business may not be able to overcome a disaster, regardless of the size or advanced warning of the event.
Disaster Planning the Waffle House Way
Even in the most extreme weather situations, one constant is the Waffle House. In fact, they structure their disaster response plan so that they can remain operational throughout all but the most extreme events. The primary goal in these situations is business as usual, including being able to provide a full menu 24/7. During events where this isn’t possible, individual diner locations may operate with a limited menu or abbreviated hours. In the event of widespread danger or damage, a Waffle House location may close down completely, shift operations to another location, and/or reopen as quickly as is safe to do so.
Examine this plan from the unique perspective of your own business. What’s important? What do you need to protect? What needs to remain operational? How do you minimize downtime and get back up and running quickly? Just as the Waffle House is something of a gold standard for disaster response, your own business can and should set similar goals.
Building a Disaster Response Plan
Disaster planning is one of the most critical actions a business can take. Without it, your business could be in danger of shutting down forever. The time to prepare for disaster is well in advance, and the sooner you begin the process, the more likely your business is to recover.
Get Top Management on Board
Without the commitment of your top managers, disaster planning will be weak at best. These individuals must understand the importance of such an effort and support the process.
Establish a Planning Committee
While your top management may be in support of disaster planning, they may not be able to commit time and expertise to the process. Bringing in other staff members with the right knowledge and capabilities will help your committee develop a plan from multiple perspectives.
Conduct a Risk Assessment
Consider the impact of the types of disasters that could befall your business. How would your business fare if your building were damaged or your equipment rendered unusable? What data and documents are critical to protect? How will you service your customers in the midst of a disaster scenario? What will it cost to minimize damage and downtime?
What processes and personnel are critical for each department in your organization? Determine what data you will need immediate access to, as well as important operational knowledge such as banking and legal information. How much downtime can each department handle before it becomes a significant issue? Rank your processes and operational needs as essential, important, and non-critical.
Outline Recovery Strategies
Once your committee has this basic information mapped out, develop a plan that will aid in the recovery of operations and processes. How you prioritize these needs will determine the order of restoration. These strategies should take into consideration your facility, hardware, software, communications, data, customer services, and other mission-critical systems.
Gather the information that your business relies on to operate. This can include a master list of customers and vendors, banking and insurance information, inventories of hardware and equipment, business forms, and other essentials.
Prepare a Written Plan
All of this preparation will be for nothing without a written document outlining your disaster plan. This document should be organized according to the priorities established at the beginning of the process. It should also be kept up-to-date as your business grows and changes.
Develop a Plan for Testing
Although a written plan is a great idea, it’s only half a plan without a means to test it. Determine how you will test your disaster plan and what criteria you will use to measure the results.
Test Your Plan
If a written plan and a testing plan are important, so is actually testing your disaster environment. Additionally, it’s not enough to test just once. Test your plan on an ongoing basis and make adjustments where needed. When a disaster occurs (and it will), the speed and accuracy of your company’s recovery will depend on how well your plan performs.
Finalize Your Plan
As your disaster plan moves through the process of development and testing, the final plan should be approved by top management. Their commitment to disaster planning is important from beginning to end. As with ongoing testing, ongoing approval is necessary, as well. Keeping the most current plan approved will assure the process runs smoothly when needed.
Where Do You Begin?
Disaster planning can be a complicated process, but one that is crucial to the survival of your business in the event of a disaster. Preparedness is key. Your upper management team, in particular, should place priority on planning and testing. Such priority can limit downtime and help your business to recover more fully.
If your business doesn’t have a carefully prepared disaster plan in place, you may need some help getting started. Lieberman Technologies helps its customers assess critical needs in terms of hardware, software, and business continuity. We can also help businesses prepare for a disaster by providing guidance in testing their plan. Contact us for more information!