Continuity Planning: Prepare Your Chorus for the Unexpected

As organizations of every type struggle to get back on their feet after natural disasters in the recent past, we are all reminded that it could happen to anyone. A business continuity expert shares steps you can take to mitigate the effects of a crisis.

Imagine this: You're driving back to the office after a lunch meeting when your cell phone rings. There has been a fire, and staff and volunteers are gathered in a nearby parking lot. As you turn the corner, police and fire equipment block your way and you see billows of smoke rising from what used to be your chorus office—now, a total loss. What do you do now? Where do you even start?

Plan for Disaster

During a local or nationwide crisis, your organization must be able to continue mission-critical operations while the impact of the event is assessed and until normal operations can be resumed. You need to have a continuity plan already in place that focuses on the organization's survival while protecting its assets and mission.

Different from disaster recovery planning, organization continuity management is a proactive approach to preparing for and mitigating the potential effects of a crisis. An effective continuity plan includes provisions for:

  • Risk management
  • Disaster recovery
  • Crisis management and reputation recovery
  • Emergency response and communication
  • Cooperation and partnerships between private organizations and government agencies
  • Practicing, testing, and maintaining the strategy and planning program

If your chorus is located in a major metropolitan area such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, or New York City, you not only have to plan for natural disasters, but also recognize the fact that your risk of being affected by a terrorist or cyber attack is higher. Have you assessed the risks associated with your location, and are you prepared to continue operations in the event of a disruption?

Getting Started

To develop your continuity plan, you can retain the services of a business continuity planning professional, join ArtsReady, or create your own program internally. If you choose the latter, the simple five-step PACES approach can guide you through the process.

1. Personnel

People are your most important asset. Protect your staff and volunteers by updating or developing an emergency response plan that includes evacuation procedures. Also consider circumstances when it might be more appropriate to stay put, such as during severe weather (e.g., tornadoes, flooding, high winds, hurricanes) or dangerous civil situations (e.g., public demonstrations, riots, chemical spills, bomb and bio-terrorism threats). As a proactive measure, have your staff develop documented, easily repeatable procedures that can be used to continue operations during a crisis situation. Make sure to keep these procedures current by updating them as necessary.

2. Alternatives

Establish alternate work area locations, suppliers, and workarounds that can support your organization as it continues operations. Where can you go to continue interim operations and perhaps even eventually establish a permanent facility? The alternative may be as simple as working from home or as complex as having contingency agreements for a new business location, equipment, and technology and communication capabilities. You also will need to develop an action plan that includes defining a team structure with roles and responsibilities, checklists, detailed procedures, and contact information, that staff can follow during a crisis.

3. Communication

Being able to communicate with management, staff, board, members, suppliers, and community stakeholders is essential. If you have staff and a place to work, then you have a team that can focus on core, critical services and functions, whether it's protecting cash flow or serving members. In survival mode, some activities are deferrable. Keep staff focused on the priority issues that address the continued viability of your organization. Remember to communicate with the families of your choristers and benefactors. Tell your story to the membership and community.

4. Equipment

Assess what equipment is essential (e.g., furniture, computers/server, phones, files) and either have it pre-positioned or readily obtainable. Be sure to take into account any specialized or customized equipment. In addition, electronic records need to be identified and protected. As a regular security measure, you should already be backing up financial and membership records and storing them off-site in a place easily accessible in an emergency. Also make sure essential hard-copy records and contracts are protected. If you lose them, for example in a fire, you will lose much of your organizational capability. Protect your music library and
contributor lists.

5. Supplies and Security

Assess what office supplies staff members need to continue operations. Also establish some form of security to protect the organization's assets, including staff, physical property, and information. Having a relationship in place with local authorities including fire, police, and community officials is a plus.

Practice Makes Perfect

Once you develop a plan, put it to the test. Practice is the only reliable method to determine if your organization can recover from an emergency event. You need to exercise, drill, and continually strive to improve your response capabilities. Think of your continuity plan as a core competency of the organization. It is far better to discover a gap,
major oversight, or problem in a practice exercise than during an actual event.

Any event that causes business disruption will be painful and your organization will lose money, time, and possibly members. But if you have the staff, workspace, equipment and resources, and an understanding of what's needed for the organization's continued existence, you have a reasonably good chance of getting back on your feet again.

This article is adapted from The Voice, Winter 2005/06.