​7 tips to help your business plan for the worst

While you can't prevent natural disasters from happening, you can reduce the impact on your business through careful project planning.

Video: The apps you need to survive in a natural disaster

CBS News reported that last year natural disasters cost the US a record $306 billion, and this year natural disasters and their impacts show no signs of reducing. According to a study by the Risk Management Monitor, 64 percent of executives surveyed said that hurricanes had a harmful impact on their operations, while 62 percent said they were not fully prepared for natural disasters.

While there is no way to stop natural disasters from happening, you can reduce the impact on your business through careful and thorough project planning. Approximately 70 percent of executives in the above survey plan to step up their risk management strategies.

SEE: Disaster recovery and business continuity plan (Tech Pro Research)

It is vital that disaster and contingency planning around mother nature become a regular part of your company's risk management strategy. Here are seven tips to help your organization soften the impact of natural disasters.

1. Recognize that planning does not guarantee anything and cannot cover everything

Planning for the worst is just that, a plan built from past experience and available data. It is important to recognize that no matter how well you plan and execute, something may fall through the cracks. They key is to identify and address 80 to 90 percent of the risk points. Trying to cover every potential risk can waste time, resources, and reduce the effectiveness of a plan altogether.

2. Identify the essential operational points of impact

Focus on the core areas within your business that are at risk if a natural disaster happens. Identify the most significant areas for potential disruption and loss. Essential services are key. Being able to deliver and communicate with customers is likely vital to your brand. Make sure all data is securely backed up offsite with a reputable company.

3. Assess the potential reach of any damage

Once you and your team identify key risk points, assess the extent of any potential disruption a natural disaster might cause. Expect the damage to be much greater than anticipated. Also factor in that the disruption may take place over a longer period of time. It is not uncommon for companies to miscalculate the timeline for all external services and infrastructure to be fixed, and for things to return to normal.

SEE: Workplace safety policy (Tech Pro Research)

4. Focus on top priorities

In the process of focusing on core products and services, you and your team may uncover hidden risk points in other important areas of the business that need to be addressed. It's easy to get off-track as new potential issues are identified. Remain focused on addressing key risk points first before spring-boarding to fix lower priority issues.

5. Seek advice from experts

If your team does not have the necessary knowledge, experience, or resources to effectively identify pain-points that might arise from potential natural disasters, enlist in the help of professionals with the expertise. It may be an unexpected cost, but it can save enormous stress and loss down the road.

6. Learn from others

Natural disasters are not new, and this means many organizations have dealt with the devastating results of floods, fire, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, and so on. Reach out to other companies. You may be surprised to find that other organizations, including risk management consultants or insurance carriers in impacted areas, will share their knowledge and experience.

SEE: Severe weather and emergency policy (Tech Pro Research)

7. Avoid complacency

Once your organization has a well-developed disaster recovery plan in place, make sure to test it out. Having it on paper is simply not enough. It is also important to regularly revisit and adjust plans as goals, priorities, circumstances, and operational changes occur.

Natural disasters can clearly impact on any organization. Having a sound and tested disaster recovery plan makes all the difference to reducing the impact on your operations, customers, and bottom line.

Also see

Image: tumsasedgars, Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large busine...