Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Information Overload – March 2016 – Ready, Willing and Able: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery

Dr Janine Douglas


There you are working away in the basement, organising your boxes of records to send to offsite storage. Then suddenly one of the staff hears an ominous sound…… the trickling of water from the exposed pipes overhead. In a relatively short period of time the trickle becomes a steady stream and the basement area is heading for a flood. Unfortunately, the water problem shorts the power and the lights go out and the servers go down. Now you have a real problem. Not only are your records going to be badly damaged but you have staff in a potentially dangerous situation. And you know that the chances are that the server will refuse to restart because it was old and you had been putting off replacing it. Worse still, you can’t rely on your back-ups because no testing was ever done to see if the back-ups would actually work. So both your hard copy and electronic records could be compromised. What to do???

This scenario may sound farfetched, but sadly versions of it occur often more than we would like to think. And the problems outlined above are just some of the many which could result from that small initial trickle of water. It could have been much worse! Staff could be injured and buildings damaged. With each disaster or emergency there will be costs associated with the recovery and replacement of items, not to mention the need to repair your brand and reputation. 

And it could all be much better if you have well developed tried and tested Disaster Management Plan! 

Why do I need a Disaster Management Plan?

Manmade and natural disasters are an ongoing threat to organisations and individuals. In recent times many parts of Australia have experienced a variety of disasters. Lives, homes and businesses have been devastated or damaged. The recovery efforts have been prolonged and difficult.

The loss of information through natural or manmade disasters compromises and inconveniences organisations and the people who work in them or rely on their services. There have even been instances of people and organisations being put at risk. The number and extent of disasters which strike organisations serves to remind us of the critical importance of disaster preparedness, response and recovery. To minimise or even prevent potential disaster events you need to plan.

There are many reasons why you need a Disaster Management Plan. For example:

• Improved safety;
• Improved security;
• Legal compliance;
• Reduced insurance costs;
• Speedier return to business; and
• Vital asset protection.
While you may think it is unlikely that a major disaster such as a bushfire, flood or terrorist attack will hit your organisation, the chances are  high that you will, at some time, experience a minor disaster or emergency situation – vermin infestation, human error, a virus or computer failure, a burst water pipe, gas leaks, falling objects and structural malfunctions. And you will need more than a green wheelie bin full of sponges to deal with them properly.

What is a Disaster Management Plan?

To manage the likelihood of disasters as well as your response to them, you need a formal, written and tested plan to specifically address those events that could damage or destroy your records and information. The plan needs to include strategies for:
• Preventing potential disasters by identifying & minimising risks;
• Responding directly to disasters if and when they occur;
• Continuing normal business activities ASAP after an emergency event; and
• Regular review and improvement of the plan.
It should cover records and information in all formats. The most effective plans include all four phases of disaster management. That is:
• Mitigation or Prevention;
• Preparedness;
• Response; and
• Recovery.
You should not develop your plan in isolation. The Plan should complement and be integrated with other emergency plans such as:
• Risk Management;
• Business Continuity;
• Emergency and Incident Management;
• Data Recovery Plan; and
• Plans for dealing with building security, fire utilities, chemical hazards, first aid & data protection.
This means that you will need to consult with those people responsible for these plans. You must take steps to ensure that you are on the team formed to develop any of these plans. Don’t wait for an invitation to join. Ask to be on the team. Explain to them that it critical that you are part of the team!!

How do I develop my Plan?

There are any number of sources to help you in developing and implementing a Disaster Management Plan. How you approach it will depend on the size of your organisation, the types and formats of records and information it holds, the resources and skills available to you and the potential emergencies and disasters. In essence, the basic steps in the process are:
• Scope the exercise – address the context, content and extent;
• Acknowledge and work with other relevant strategies, plans and processes;
• Conduct an inventory/audit of your information assets;
• Identify your priority areas – for example vital records;
• Undertake a risk assessment, evaluate the risks and develop a risk treatment plan;
• Use all this to develop your Disaster Management Plan;
• Prepare and train the staff; and
• Remember to monitor, test and review it on a regular basis.
Your Plan needs to include such elements as:
• The backup resources, including experts, trades people, materials, equipment, vehicles and accommodation;
• Concise and simple technical information to assist with how to deal with damaged material;
• Basic supporting information such as phone numbers and where the recovery supplies are located, floorplans etc;
• The disaster team members and their roles and responsibilities;
• The priority areas for protection and recovery; and
• How the plan will be updated and tested.
When writing your Plan remember – In a disaster, you and other staff will be under a lot of pressure. So make sure the plan is easy to understand and follow.

So how prepared are you for an emergency or disaster?  Here’s a quick and easy way to test your level of preparedness.




Not sure

Have you completed a risk assessment of the potential disasters?




Have you identified your vital records and other priority areas?




Have you developed a disaster preparedness and recovery plan?




Do you have a disaster response team/s?




Have adequate preparations been made to enable response and recovery to a disaster or emergency?




Have you reviewed and tested your plan?




Do you have a backup system for information and records? Has it been tested?




Do you have supplies to operate the business manually? (forms, pens, etc.)




Do you have agreements or partnerships in place with conservator or a salvage and recovery business?




Do you know the most appropriate recovery methods for the various types of damage that you could suffer?




Do you have current contact information for your staff, suppliers, insurance company etc?




Do staff members have the key skills to assist with the recovery?




Are your staff familiar with the disaster plan?




Have you conducted emergency preparedness workshops?




These are just a few examples of the questions you need to ask yourself and answer in the affirmative so that you can be well-placed to prepare for and respond to a disaster or emergency.