Plan AheadYoung humans tend to learn by experience. Those lessons tend to stick but it’s a method that can prove extremely costly when the stakes are high. A business that survives a disaster will doubtless learn a good few lessons, but the fact is that most businesses don’t survive disasters without advance planning.

Early on in life, it’s perfectly normal to want to see for oneself whether a candle flame actually burns, and usually the experience is bought cheaply, at the expense of a brief pain. As one grows up, however, it’s advisable to learn to profit from others’ experience and one’s own analysis to plan ahead for events that could severely affect one; in this case, could put one out of business.

Business continuity planning could be thought of as the way in which a company profits from others’ experiences and its own analysis to assess all its risks and plan for even the unlikely eventualities. In other words, understanding that there might be a candle flame and how not to get burned!

For example, it probably goes without saying that all Japanese businesses have put plans in place against a tsunami, and the same goes for those companies that rely on Japanese suppliers. However, many companies whose businesses were ruined by the tsunami in 2011 would have been able to recover much more quickly if they had the right business continuity measures in place.

One should really consider business continuity as a way of applying one’s mind to assess what risks one’s business faces, and then putting in place what is needed to recover the business. It’s all about building business resilience.

Another, more positive example is the fire that ravaged the head office of a leading South African emergency-response company in 2009—an unexpected but foreseeable event for which the company had planned. It was able to move to a recovery site and assure clients it could continue to service them, a display of far-sightedness and “grace under fire” that resonated strongly with its brand persona.

Even if a specific event was not foreseen, a company with a comprehensive business continuity plan is nevertheless in a good position to adapt existing plans. One could argue that the recent earthquake on 5 August 2014 at Orkney is an event that would previously have been rated a low probability, but which nonetheless occurred.

It’s highly likely that mines and other businesses in the area may have discounted the probability of such a large seismic event, but those with contingency plans in place for disasters of similar magnitude would have been more likely to recover quickly. What’s certain is that many more businesses in that area will now have included a repeat earthquake in their scenario planning. Let’s also hope that they have looked at their entire risk profiles with greater care as well. Businesses need to be prepared for disasters if they are to survive: learning by experience can be disastrous, literally.

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