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Business continuity and disaster recovery

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9 September 2013
It is important to ensure that a practice can return to “business as normal” as quickly and seamlessly as possible following a major disruption. This type of planning is often overlooked by businesses to their detriment. Having a solid plan in place can minimise financial losses and the effects on patients. This article provides some useful steps on how to go about this.

Analyse your practice
Identifying areas of the business that are crucial to keeping the practice running smoothly will help you prioritise which parts of the business to get up and running as soon as possible after a disruption.
Consider the following:
  • What are the minimum resources required to deliver the key functions of the business?
  • What are the impacts of losing critical functions of the practice?
  • How quickly do you need to restore critical functions in order to minimise disruption?
  • What external factors is the practice dependant on?

Risk assessment
Assess the risks the business faces by pin pointing factors that could cause disruptions to the practice. These could include:
  • Loss of premises
  • Loss of utilities
  • Loss of IT systems
  • Loss of staff
By considering how these risks impact on the critical functions you will be able to identify the greatest risks to the business. You can then consider how likely these are to happen and whether these is anything you can do to prevent them from happening.

Develop a plan
A business continuity plan will help to enable the practice to respond effectively to any crisis. The plan should be:
  • Flexible
  • Able to work on any day and in any weather
  • Clear and user friendly
  • Regularly tested
  • Understood by everyone at the practice

Protecting your practice
  • Computers and IT – Dental practices are becoming more reliant on technology, so it is vital to ensure that IT systems are secure. This can be achieved by the following; ensuring systems are password protected, setting up a firewall for internet connection, using up to date anti-virus software, backing up key information and storing back-ups off site and changing passwords regularly.
  • Fire – Help to protect the practice from an outbreak of fire and to minimise the damage by the following; carrying out a fire risk assessment, outline emergency evacuation procedures, installing fire alarms and heat detectors, providing fire extinguishing equipment, identifying escape routes, installing fire doors, appointing a fire warden, training staff in fire awareness, carrying out regular fire drills.
  • Flooding – Assess the risk of flooding to the practice. This could be from a river, excess surface water or a burst pipe internally. If you are at risk then consider the following to protect the practice; choosing flood protection products which best suit your building, checking the building is insured against flooding, storing important documents and valuables above flood level, keeping up to date with flood warnings in your area.
  • Insurance – Checking that the practice has the right insurance is very important in helping the business to get back to normal in a disaster. If you are a tenant then you should also check what insurance your landlord has in place.
  • Security – All businesses are at risk from criminal attacks but there are simple steps that can be taken to protect the practice. For example; ensuring materials and information that are critical to the running of the practice are kept in a secure place, communicating security measures to employees, installing a working intruder alarm system and maintaining this on a regular basis.
  • Supply chain - It is critical to manage the resilience of the supply chain of the practice. If you have highlighted that an aspect of the practice’s function is reliant on an external factor such as a particular supplier, you should find out whether they also have a business continuity plan in place.

Communicate your plan
Communicating your plan is a vital part of ensuring its effectiveness. Staff should understand what to do in an emergency. It is also important to involve staff in practising the plan and to welcome their feedback. You should also consider communicating your plan with neighbours, patients and suppliers.
Testing your continuity plan will demonstrate whether it works and highlight areas that need improvement.  This can be done through seminar exercises, discussions or live exercises. Whichever method is chosen it is important to evaluate the plan and amend it if necessary.
Much of the above is common sense, however, having a formal plan in place could make a huge difference should a major disruption occur. You will not be able plan for every possible disaster, however planning can reduce the potential impact on the practice.