One of the most challenging issues CIOs face is developing disaster recovery (DR) plans that go beyond system recovery and focus on overall business continuity. Is there a difference?

A surprising number of C-level executives would prefer to say “no” because 1) they don’t want to dedicate employees to developing DR plans and practice exercises, and 2) since systems are key to business recovery, why not make the entire process an IT one?

If you’re a corporate shareholder, the process doesn’t work that way. You want to know the business can continue, and if you serve on the company’s board, you want to be able to assure people that the company is not in ruins. The mouthpiece for this process is the CEO and, in some cases, the public relations director — not IT. In the beginning stages of DR, nothing is more important to the public and the stakeholders than communications.

The second foundational support for DR is operational continuity. This means developing scripts for manual failover processes in every business area, and having employees complete dry-run practices of these scripts to ensure they work. For example, bank tellers would manually keep ledgers of transactions as customers come in to bank branches to make deposits and withdrawals, and then post the manual entries to the system when it comes back online.

To ensure a complete DR, C-level executives, mid-level managers across the company, HR, and IT must all be deeply engaged in the process. To affect this level of across the board commitment, responsibility for DR ultimately rests with the CEO, and the job of carrying out a DR must cross every business function.

SEE: Disaster recovery: Tech tips and leadership advice (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

CIOs and other C-level executives can ensure they are ready for an event that hopefully will never come by following these six DR tips.

  • Commit every department head to developing policies, procedures, and chains of command for operating in emergency situations, and not just relegating the job to IT.
  • Test the manual and other workaround DR processes at least annually to assure the processes work. Remember to revise procedures when systems and operations change.
  • Commit extra budget dollars if needed to shore up IT resources so a DR failover can be effective. You can quibble dollars and cents, but if you’re ever in a full-blown disaster, the risk of losing your company reputation or your entire company is often incalculable.
  • List mission-critical IT or business vendors that will need to help you get through a DR situation.
  • Develop a “communications tree” for disasters that designates who (and who isn’t) authorized to be a corporate spokesperson to the public and to shareholders.
  • Be sensitive to employees’ emotions and try to ease their concerns. During DR and business continuation, employees are thrown out of their element; the environment can be turbulent, confusing, and stressful. It is important to have point persons in each department who can keep a level head, resolve issues quickly, and keep stress levels down. HR can be extremely helpful in this area; they understand the human factors, and often have great ideas on how to bring teams and people together to make business continuity work.

What DR best practices would you add to our list? Let us know in the discussion.

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