Of the estimated 10,000 businesses to have been affected by the floods in Britain this year, it was clear that many had no business recovery plan.
Similarly, of those hit by a series of Royal Mail postal strikes, a significant number were left frustrated and at risk of losing customers because they had no alternative means of delivery or distribution.
According to London Chamber of Commerce figures, 43 per cent of companies that experience a disaster never recover, making it all the more surprising that so many small businesses fail to have a workable Plan B to insulate them against crisis.
"It is human nature to think, 'it won't happen to me', or 'I'll do it tomorrow'," says Peter Ferguson, director of corporate risk at business solutions provider Johnson Controls. "But it is the small and medium-sized businesses, which lack the personnel, facilities and the infrastructure of larger organisations, that can least afford not to plan for emergencies."
What's more, a business continuity plan (BCP) need not be complex or expensive. "All you have to do is think about what could stop your business from operating," he says. "Is there at least one mobile phone in the building in the event of the landlines going down? If you rely on the internet to do business, do you know the location of a wireless hub that you could connect to via a laptop if there is a power cut?"
According to Kieran Gallagher, executive director at chartered loss adjustors MYI, there is talk in government circles of making the British Standard on business continuity management, BS 25999, mandatory, given the potential for wider economic damage. He says: "Apart from cushioning the impact of a disaster, companies can also save money—insurers recognise the benefits of a BCP that is reviewed regularly, and will take this into account when providing rates for renewals and new business."
Crisis and emergency management consultancy Adam Continuity runs training courses and workshops for managers and business owners, exposing them to realistic crises scenarios where they can test out their contingency plans.
"It makes them think, not just about the immediate protection of their premises and stock, but about things like staffing levels—people may be unable to get into work—and customers, who may sympathise with your predicament, but will still look elsewhere for a supplier," says Adam Continuity sales director Philip Caulfield.
But there is another reason for investing in a BCP that works.
Directors, adds Caulfield, have a duty of care to consider, too. They have responsibilities to their staff and to maintaining their salary. "If an employee can prove that a director has failed in their duty to implement a business continuity plan, resulting in a loss of earnings, they could sue. It is happening in the US and it will happen here."