Continue to communicate when disaster strikes

With long term 2014/15 winter forecasts now being set by the Met Office, many people and businesses will understandably be concerned about how it might impact them over the coming months.

Last winter, thousands of companies were affected by storms as heavy rainfall and high winds wreaked havoc across Britain. Extreme weather conditions left many companies reeling as they contended with flooding, loss of power and physical displacement. The Association of British Insurers put the eventual cost at £1.1 billion with businesses putting in 3,100 claims to the tune of £149 million.

Many companies troubled by the storms suffered from some form of physical damage and in most cases their operations were either fully or partially affected. ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ is a saying that several business owners and managers will have heeded and many will have looked at ways to mitigate or eradicate any potential problems this winter.

The most important aspect for any company facing adversity as a result of a disaster, be it from weather related problems or other scenarios, is to keep going as much as they can. This is why contingency planning and disaster recovery are important for companies that are at risk.

Planning for weather disruption can be as little as ensuring adequate cover in the office or site if people are unable to get to work, right up to a more demanding response such as dealing with complete displacement.

When planning, a useful technique is to think about the probability as well as the likely impact. For example, an incident that is highly probable but has a low impact – such as one or two employees not getting to work because of travel disruption – can easily be covered by most businesses. However, an incident that has a low probability but a high impact, such as premises being completely rendered uninhabitable through severe and unexpected flooding, may not readily be anticipated.

Of course, disaster scenarios vary and whilst flooding or storm damage may cause untold problems to a company such as a manufacturing or bricks and mortar retail business, the same disaster may not affect a marketing consultancy, recruitment firm or online retailer in quite the same way.

In many cases, modern technology, such as cloud computing, enables businesses to function adequately or even perfectly because the reliance on other systems – such as the PC in the office – is significantly lessened. It means that employees, where possible, can work remotely as they can access and process information in the cloud.

Another way for companies to reduce their exposure to unforeseen and potentially damaging circumstances is a move to Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony.   Most companies rely on their communication with the outside world and between sites – being cut off from customers, suppliers, colleagues and other stakeholders can be immensely damaging in both the short and longer term.

With VoIP telephony, because there is no reliance on physical telephony equipment that sits at a company’s premises, the risk is greatly reduced because businesses can continue to operate virtually.

If potential problems are on the horizon, or all of a sudden disaster strikes, VoIP telephony can quickly be reconfigured and calls re-routed to ensure that business critical processes continue unaffected. This can be achieved, for example, with employees working from home, at remote locations or whilst on the move because they are seamlessly connected via the Internet.

Staff can continue to make outbound calls and run the operation as normally as possible. Likewise any calls coming into the business, from customers, potential customers or other stakeholders, can be appropriately routed and successfully answered.

This approach can be a very effective way of ensuring business continuity that would otherwise be affected if using the Public Switched Telephone Network.

For further information about IP telephony, visit www.foehn.co.uk

Image: Snow via Shutterstock

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