How Often Should You Test Your Disaster Preparedness Plan?

There’s no question about it. Your organization needs a disaster preparedness plan.

  • Most companies go out of business rather quickly after disaster strikes. A Gartner Group study from 2010 found that just 6% of companies were still in business two years after having lost their data. A similar study by the SBA found that more than 90% of companies that lost their data failed within two years. According to FEMA, 40% of businesses don’t reopen at all after a disaster and another 25% cease operations within a year.
  • Disasters happen in spite of our best plans. We’re only human, so we can only see a small fraction of what’s coming at us. Even if we had unlimited forward vision, we don’t have unlimited resources, so we have to pick our “battles”. To pick our battles efficiently and effectively – which disasters are we going to address and how? – we need to plan.
  • People respond more effectively to disasters when they’ve rehearsed. In fact, a recent study published by the Journal of Neuroscience[1] suggests that “overlearning” a task results in less effort needed to perform it. Therefore, the more we conduct disaster drills, the greater the likelihood people will act appropriately when the real thing comes along.

With respect to disaster planning, what’s reasonable? What are the greatest risks to our organization and how do we counter them?

  • We have to determine what’s most likely to endanger our business, our people, and the communities we serve.
  • We must determine which threats are likely to have the greatest impact.
  • We have to know our risk tolerance with respect to every risk.

Keep in mind that all threats are not the same. We don’t want to run the same drill for every type of threat. Different types of disaster call for different responses and different frequencies, too. A once-a-year drill might be sufficient for one kind of threat but another may need a quarterly, or even a monthly, disaster drill.

How often do you need to test your disaster preparedness plan?

It depends. How simple or complex is the threat? Your response to and recovery from each type of disaster has to be a reflection of the threat’s complexity. A simple problem calls for a simple response, in other words.

Complex threats require complex plans and solutions. Following that train of thought, complex plans and solutions require more training and more practice to ensure their success. To put it simply, what most organizations do – when a disaster of major proportions occurs, like the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant or a couple of planes flying into the World Trade Center, they ask “Do we have a disaster plan?”, then they think about it for a few hours or days, until something important comes along  – won’t save them.

My advice? Put a disaster preparedness plan in place in your organization. Drill on it until people are sick of drilling, then drill some more. You really can’t be too careful.

* * * * * * *

[1] Huang, Kram, and Ahmed, “Reduction of Metabolic Cost during Motor Learning of Arm Reaching Dynamics”, Journal of Neuroscience, Feb. 8, 2012, 32(6):2182-2190 – http://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/6/2182.short

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