Business Continuity

Dec 15, 2010

In July of 2004, the damage done during the ‘Peterborough Flood’ devastated many businesses and organizations in the area. Non profit agencies were the hardest hit. Many were unable to attend to their clients for days. “Business Continuity” immediately became the new buzz word!

“Business Continuity” involves planning for the loss of business operations due to a disaster. After the flood, the Peterborough/Haliburton Canadian Red Cross received a special grant from the United Way Peterborough to prepare and execute a business continuity plan.

Our plan covered three parts. The first was the production of a handbook and obtaining emergency supplies for clients with low literacy levels for the Regional Literacy Network. The second was to ­provide education materials for the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing, to mitigate or even eliminate their communication struggles. Finally, the third part was to help United Way agencies and other non profit organizations with their business continuity plans.

In this phase we attempted to answer the most common questions: Why are my employees not at work? Where are my files? How can I continue to care for my clients? To do so, we prepared a two-day business continuity seminar offered by the Peterborough/Haliburton Red Cross.

Lessons Learned
Steve Armstrong, a Red Cross official who had been a key player to rebuilding another community that was devastated by flooding, was brought in. The seminars provided participating agencies with blueprints for preventing loss and responding to natural or man-made disasters. The blueprints included business continuity plans, protection of facilities and property, protection of vulnerable clients and coping with the effects of a disaster upon agency employees as well as clients and agency property.

The Peterborough/Haliburton Red Cross then published and distributed planning templates free of charge to local agencies. Following these seminars the Peterborough/Haliburton Red Cross also provided assistance to individual agencies that serve vulnerable clients, helping them to adapt the blueprint to their own needs, capacities and communities. Red Cross Disaster ­Man­agement volunteers delivered the ­service to non-profit agencies in the Peterborough, Northumberland and Kawartha Lakes area.

Challenges and Responses
 The challenges with this project centered around the agency’s resources – both human and financial. Many non-profit agencies were very optimistic about the Red Cross helping them with their business continuity plans but found it difficult to devote time to completing the tasks, so many let the template sit on the back burner.

To jump-start the project, the Peterborough/Haliburton Red Cross held business continuity forums in Peterborough and North­­umberland, and a workshop in City of Kawartha Lakes. Attendees represented agencies that had received help as well as others that had not. Participants recognized quickly that having a business continuity plan was important, not just to them, but to their clients as well.

Dale Windle, a Certified Business Resil­ience Professional, and James Kilgour from the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness – both business continuity professionals – were invited as guest speakers. James spoke about a community resiliency program. He used a flower shop as a business example to go through what its key products and services were and what critical inputs would be required. He then spoke of how long a business can go in a disaster before it stops. He talked about different interruptions to business that can occur at any time and how one can prepare for all contingencies. Mr. Kilgour outlined basic steps for survival, how to restore business operations, and then how to build resiliency into ongoing operations.

Mr. Windle spoke about the actual business continuity planning. Why you should plan, what resources you need to complete a plan and the lifecycle of the plan itself. He used a non-profit organization as an example. He also provided an orga­nization impact analysis work sheet that agencies can use to help with their own plans. This elicits information about what is most important to the managers of a given business and why.

With input from the experts, the business continuity workshop with the agencies was spent working through this template and the workbook provided. The second step involved making appointments for the Disaster Management Volunteers to visit other agencies’ place of business, help them make personal connections and to complete the planning process.

Some Positive Early Results
To date, the Peterborough Red Cross has helped 20 agencies in Peterborough County – 10 in Northumberland County and 16 in City of Kawartha Lakes. In addition, the Peterborough/Haliburton Red Cross and the Canadian Mental Health Association used an expert resource to complete its business continuity plan.

The Peterborough/Haliburton Red Cross continues to help non-profit agencies with their business continuity plans. They are working on putting together another workshop in 2011 for local United Way agencies. This successful initiative has ­continued to grow, and the importance of having a business continuity plan for all businesses, agencies and organizations – be they for profit or non profit – has finally become recognized as a vital and “living” document to have, practice and maintain.  

Barb Mills is the Disaster Management Coordinator for the Peterborough/Haliburton, Northumberland Branch of the Red Cross.
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