As promised, this is the 2nd in a three part series on disaster planning. While the first article addressed organizing and writing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, this article will provide you with addition details to ensure that your plan is presented in a logical sequence and is written in a standard and understandable format.

Effective procedures and relevant documentation is critical to a workable disaster recovery plan. Although a lot of companies have such plans at the request of their risk management departments or as an OSHA requirement, most are difficult to read and quickly become outdated. When writing a plan remember the KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid! A well written, simple plan will reduce your team’s frustration and the time required to read and understand it, increasing the likelihood of a successful implementation.

So, how should a plan be written? The first and perhaps the most important step is to standardize the format. I know this sounds mundane, but this simple step will provide consistency and conformity, which is extremely important when various departments and teams are providing content. Typically we see two basic formats when writing a plan: Background information and procedural information.

Background information should be written using indicative sentences (with a subject, verb and predicate) while the procedural information should use an imperative style (beginning with a verb, YOU is assumed, and issuance of direction follows.

What to include in background information:

  • The purpose of the procedure
  • Scope (location, equipment, personnel, and time associated with what the procedure encompasses)
  • Relevant reference material (handbooks, manuals, etc. to be used and consulted)
  • Applicable forms to be used when performing the procedures
  • Required authorizations
  • Applicable policies

Procedural information should be developed in advance and issued in a preprinted form. Common styles use separate headings for each page including:

  • Subject category number and descriptions
  • Subcategories (with numbers and descriptions)
  • Page numbers
  • Revision number and date
  • Superseded date

Next is the writing method to be used, which should provide clearly written, detailed procedures. Tips include:

  • Be specific and assume it will be implemented by people totally unfamiliar with the operation
  • Use short, direct sentences and KISS. Long involved sentences can become confusing and overwhelm the reader
  • Use topic sentences to start a new paragraph
  • Keep paragraphs short and to the point
  • Present 1 idea at a time
  • Use an active voice in the present tense
  • Avoid acronyms and jargon
  • Use position titles rather than names of people to reduce required updates
  • Avoid gender references
  • Use uniform procedures to improve training efficiency and minimize exceptions to conditions and actions
  • Identify events that occur or should occur in parallel or in a sequence
  • Avoid non-descriptive verbs (make, take, etc.) Use descriptive verbs for brevity and clarity such as acquire, active, advise, answer, assist, compile, compare, balance,  etc.)

Scope – when developing the plan write it in a “worst case scenario” context so less critical situations can be handled using the relevant sections of the plan with minor or no revisions.

Planning assumptions – what is the foundation of assumptions that the plan is written on? Planning assumptions limit the circumstances to be addressed with the plan, defining the magnitude of disaster the organization is prepared to handle. Some common questions to consider when identifying the assumptions include:

  • What equipment/facilities have been destroyed?
  • What time did the destruction occur?
  • What information, records, files and/or materials were destroyed?
  • What resources are available, staff, equipment, communication, transportation, alternate locations for operations

Using these questions, a typical planning assumption may include:

  • The primary facility has been destroyed
  • Staff is available to perform critical operations defined within the plan
  • Staff can be readily notified and report to alternate locations to perform critical operations
  • Off-site storage facilities/materials are available
  • The plan is current
  • An adequate supply of critical forms and supplies are available at an alternate facility or back up location
  • Communication mechanisms are in place and working properly
  • Alternate transportation is available in the local area
  • Suppliers will keep their commitments to support the organization

While this list is not all inclusive, it is intended to provide guidance and provoke dialogue to develop a complete and relevant plan.

Teamwork – using a team approach to develop and implement the plan is critical. Team member should have specific responsibilities that allow for a smooth recovery. Teams should have a leader and backup identified to provide direction in developing and implementing the plan during a time of disaster. Teams may include:

  • Leadership team
  • Operations recovery team
  • Department recovery team
  • IT recovery team
  • Damage assessment team
  • Safety and security team
  • Administrative support team
  • Logistics team
  • Communications team
  • Human resources team
  • Customer care/relations team

Depending on the culture and size of your organization, you may have various combinations of these teams. The number and skill of members may also vary depending on your specific needs.

Keep in mind, a disaster recovery plan won’t prevent a disaster from coming your way, but if effective, it may just save your business. Remember to keep plans simple to eliminate confusion and errors. Provide new employees with training during onboarding and routinely for other employees and don’t rely on solely on certain individuals or functions that may not be there.