As bad as it gets

Global organizations in the small and medium sector are more unprepared for emergencies due to ignorance, complacency and lack of time and money, disaster recovery experts said Monday as Business Continuity Awareness Week began.

“”Most organizations keep their resources to a minimum. Most organizations

are working hard to generate revenue or even just keep their heads above water,”” said Adrian Gordon, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness in Burlington, Ont., in reference to small business.

The cost of a contingency scheme, which depends on the business’s complexity and the critical nature of its computing facilities, can range from millions of dollars for banks, to several thousands of dollars for other companies, said Don Brooks, marketing director for the Disaster Recovery Institute Canada in Toronto. “”That’s an awful lot of money to go and find.””

On the heels of disasters like the U.S. terrorist attacks, SARS, last year’s Aug. 14 blackout and myriad computer viruses, the Business Continuity Institute and its partners want to reinforce the importance that companies must know how their business will carry on in the event of a catastrophe and encourage awareness within their own companies, Gordon explained. It’s the group’s first concerted effort to drive home a broad awareness campaign. The week-long awareness campaign includes a variety of courses and seminars offered through training organizations and industry associations.

“”The challenge now is to make people realize that the nature of the risks are changing,”” said Gordon. “”I think people are beginning to be aware terrorism is a factor in Canada. There is clear evidence that natural disasters are increasing in severity. And if you combine that with the rapid increase of population of urban areas, that in itself means that that risk is increasing. The risk of computer-related disasters is increasing.””


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Canada faces unique challenges as well. Because of its small population and large geographical size, the historical impact of natural disasters has been smaller than those affecting the U.S., noted Gordon. “”That has led to, I think, a sense of complacency in Canada that these events don’t happen very often, they’re not likely to happen to me, and therefore I’m really far too busy trying to stay in business”” to come up with a plan.

That said, some natural events have devastated Canada, notably 1998’s ice storm, which struck parts of eastern Ontario and Quebec and was one of the worst disasters in North America, added Brooks. It cost the region about $5.5 billion in damages.

Companies need to understand their risks before putting a plan in place, and this varies depending on the nature of the business and its geographical and local situations, Gordon said. He explained that factors to be considered include whether one’s business is close to another company producing hazardous materials or resides in an a flood- or earthquake-prone area. These risks need to be put into a “”priority sequence”” to determine the right plans for the company, an obvious strategy being to protect a company’s main assets of people, proprietary information and equipment.

The Disaster Recovery Institute and Business Continuity Institute provide certification to individuals allowing them to advise companies on developing an emergency plan, said Brooks. He said the Disaster Recovery Information Exchange has chapters across Canada that bring together representatives selected by their companies to develop a disaster strategy, and allow them to exchange ideas about how they’ve solved common problems.

As better legislation is put into effect, companies will become more liable for their lack of planning, Brooks added. In North America, the U.S. has passed a lot of legislation, whereas Canada has relied on the concept of due diligence — that is, what “”a reasonable person would reasonably be expected to have in place”” to deal with disaster at his or her firm.

Although some believe the Canadian system is weaker than that of the U.S., and doesn’t justify writing a plan, the recently passed Bill C-45 will “”put tremendous pressure on executives of companies,”” Brooks said. Often referred to as the Westray Bill after 1992’s Nova Scotia mine accident, it expands the potential criminal liability for corporations and officers.

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