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Five-Point Plan Can Keep Businesses Going

Business-continuity plans must address five major points, say consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers: facilities, people, connectivity, information technology, and supply-chain issues. Just as important, they've got to do so succinctly, or people won't read them.

Facilities: The bottom line of business-continuity planning is that employees need to have a place to work. Ideally, businesses can plan to use unoccupied space at other buildings they own or lease. That's what many tenants at the World Trade Center did after the twin towers collapsed.

If space is unavailable at another company facility, businesses should contract for space with a third party before a disaster occurs. "You don't want to face an interruption and have no idea where you're going," says Scott Christian, senior manager of business-contingency planning at PricewaterhouseCoopers' Dallas office.

People: The biggest problem many companies face when a disaster occurs is getting in contact with employees. An emergency contact list must be constantly updated and available to managers. Maintaining an up-to-date call list, especially of workers who travel a lot, seems simple, but it's really an arduous task, Christian says.

Business-continuity plans sometimes assume that employees will travel to designated alternative work sites-no matter how distant-when a disaster strikes or is looming. But don't count on that, Christian cautions. "Not all employees are willing to leave the house, spouse, and kids when a hurricane is approaching," he says.

Connectivity: Business-continuity planners must make sure that their companies work with more than one telecommunications carrier for phone services. Also, companies should maintain redundant links with frame-relay networks, in case one should fail.

A virtual private network over the Internet is an inexpensive alternative that can be employed in an emergency.

Information technology: Get business-critical and revenue-producing applications up and running as soon as possible, even if they operate at degraded levels. Restoring noncritical applications can wait. "In the grand scheme of things, an accounting system is really only scorekeeping. You can wait five or six days for that," Christian says.

Supply chain: Good business-continuity plans include provisions to keep business partners apprised of the situation. If a disaster forces a company to close a manufacturing plant, suppliers need to be notified where to send parts. "They're partners in good times and partners in bad times," Christian says. The courtesy may be returned. For instance, a partner who knows your circumstances may let you slide if a payment is late because of an emergency.

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