Testing is vital to an organization’s preparedness plan because it reveals weaknesses, gaps in resources and other opportunities for improvement before a real event occurs.
An organization should review and test its disaster preparedness plan at least once a year to evaluate the effectiveness of its current disaster preparedness program. The testing process helps to clarify roles in the company, reinforces knowledge, reveals the need for additional training and helps improve employee performance. It also exposes aspects of the disaster plan don’t pan out in practice.
Here are examples of the types of tests to conduct and include in your comprehensive evaluation:
- System tests: Check the various systems within the organization, along with their respective processes or procedures, to ensure that they meet the requirements outlined in preparedness plan.
- Component-related tests: Make sure that all hardware and software components that the organization will rely upon during a disaster function according to plan. For example, a component is a backup generator or a data-saving program.
- Recovery strategies: Check the IT infrastructure and the organization’s recovery strategies to ensure that they will resemble operational conditions after a disaster.
- Inspections, tests and maintenance: Verify that protection systems, critical warning systems and communications systems are in good working condition.
Don’t wait until after a disaster to identify areas of improvement. Simulate or discuss hypothetical incidents to enhance employee knowledge of the disaster preparedness plan, optimize plan performance and increase awareness of potential hazards.
Exercises vary in scale and can consist of:
- Full-scale drills of hypothetical events.
- Discussion-based tabletop exercises to discuss roles and responsibilities.
- Orientation meetings, workshops and walkthroughs to familiarize employees with the preparedness plan.
- Functional exercises for specific employees, resources or procedures in a simulated environment that’s scenario-driven.
All exercises, regardless of their type, should have objectives, evaluations and post-exercise reports that list suggestions for improvement, evaluated by the preparedness team.
Improving the Program
Use exercises, tests and actual disasters as learning experiences to assess the organization’s response to an incident. To improve the program, it’s important to measure the outcomes of the actions taken and the community’s and/or industry’s reactions to the response.
Whenever there is a change in the organization that could compromise the effectiveness of a preparedness plan, the disaster preparedness team should review the program and make any necessary adjustments. Such changes can include:
- The launching or withdrawal of a new or existing product.
- Changes in management, suppliers, funding, regulations, laws or processes.
- The identification of new hazards.
- Changes to the physical work site, infrastructure or workforce population.
- The discovery of weaknesses during drills, tests or exercises.
A review should ensure that plans and procedures are up to date. This includes verifying the accuracy of team rosters, resource availability and the contact information of preparedness team members, relevant employees, suppliers and vendors, contractors and public agencies.
When the organization finds deficiencies and gaps after an exercise, drill or disaster, the disaster preparedness team should document the information and identify the following information:
- Action or resource required.
- Reason for the corrective action.
- Action’s priority level.
- Person or team responsible for completing the action, as well as the deadline and status.
Is Your Business Ready?
While an organization can’t prevent several types of disasters, they can prepare for the effects that hazards may pose. Making an effective disaster preparedness plan takes more than time; it takes:
- Program management that establishes leadership and commitment.
- Careful planning that takes all possible risks and hazards into consideration.
- Implementation to assess the plans and put them into action.
- The testing of processes and procedures.
- Program improvement to ensure the safety of the organizations assets, compliance and business continuity.
As weather patterns change and employees come and go, updating, improving and testing your disaster preparedness plan is imperative to guiding your business through a disaster.