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7 Business Continuity Plan Testing Scenarios

1) Data loss

Let’s start with one of the most common workplace disasters today: a loss of data. This loss could be caused by a number of culprits:

  • Ransomware and other cyberattacks

  • Accidentally deleted files or folders

  • Server / drive failure

  • Datacenter outage

Assume that the lost data is mission-critical. Perhaps it’s your CRM information or the data that runs your sales and logistics applications.

The obvious goal is to get that data back as quickly as possible, ideally by restoring a backup. But whose job is it to do that? How should they communicate the problem with other personnel (and at what point in the crisis)? What are the priorities? Do outside vendors, such as managed service providers (MSPs) need to be contacted?

If your primary IT person isn’t available to start the recovery, do other team members know how to do it?

These are all questions that should be answered by your test.

2) Data recovery

You need to make sure your BC/DR systems work like they’re supposed to. Conduct a test that involves losing a massive amount of data, and then try to recover it.

Here’s what you’ll need to evaluate:

  • How long does the recovery take?

  • Were any files corrupted during the recovery?

  • Did you meet your RTO?

  • If you virtualized a backup in the cloud, were there any issues? Did internal applications run without connectivity issues or lag?

Make sure that the teams who rely on this business-critical data participate in the test. For example, if they’ll be expected to work with a virtualized environment, watch them do this – see what questions they have or what issues they run into.

3) Power outage

Scenario: Last night, power was knocked out by a storm. The utility company says it won’t be back up for days.

So, what now? What does your BCP say should happen in an event like this?

As part of the test, you’ll want to make sure that your DR team knows their responsibilities and how to communicate with the rest of the organization.

  • How will personnel be notified? Are they expected to come into work?

  • If a prolonged work stoppage occurs, does HR and Accounting know how it impacts payroll?

  • Are there backup generators that need to be manually started?

  • Is there a backup office location?

These answers should already be in your BCP. But with the test, you’ll be able to confirm that everyone follows the protocols as outlined.

4) Network outage

Very similar concerns here. Chances are if there’s no electricity then there’s no network either. Although there are numerous situations in which you could have electricity but the network is down.

For situations like this (if the outage is prolonged), it’s increasingly common for organizations to provide personnel with the means to work remotely from home. So as part of this test, you’ll want to make sure that this plan works as designed:

  • Do employees know how to use/access the remote desktop systems?

  • Does the technology work as designed? Are speeds/connectivity strong enough to maintain productivity levels?

  • How is the network being restored? Do recovery teams know what to do?

5) On-site danger

This is a very important office-wide drill that you must conduct at least once a year. Chances are that your local fire codes may already require you to have a periodic fire drill. If not, it’s critical that you conduct one anyway.

In addition to fire, these drills can be used for testing response to other dangerous situations, such as:

  • Earthquakes

  • Tornadoes

  • Bomb threats

  • Terrorist attacks

  • Gas leaks

  • Structural instability

As part of your test, make sure people know their emergency procedures, whether it’s evacuation, duck and cover, retreating to a safe area, or even staying at their desks.

Additionally, you should be testing your procedures for maintaining operations in case such an event is prolonged.

6) Communication protocols

Communication is critical in a disaster. And in the most disruptive events (such as a severe natural disaster), you’ll probably lose most of your traditional communication means.

Your BCP should already outline how communication should occur in these situations: who should call whom and how. Some companies use calling trees. Some have an emergency email alert system, a call-in number for updates, or special company websites used exclusively for communicating during these events.

Your tests should check that these systems and steps actually work: that personnel know they exist, that they know how to use them, and that they work as designed.

7) Crisis of any kind

Let’s face it—there are so many different disasters that threaten your operations. Hopefully they’re already thoroughly defined in your business continuity plan.

Your job is to make sure you’re creating realistic tests that prepare the business for each of these crises. We’ve included some of the most destructive (and common) disasters in the recommended tests above, but there are numerous others to consider as part of your testing, including:

  • Loss of personnel (Transportation blockage, strike, illness, etc.)

  • Additional utility outages (gas, telecommunications)

  • Application outages

  • On-site flooding

  • City/area-wide evacuation

  • IT infrastructure failure or damage

As with each of the tests outlined above, your drills for these scenarios should be designed to ensure that personnel know how to respond, that they’ll be safe, and that the business can continue running.

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