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Should You Risk It? What's Continuity Worth To You?

When you live in an age of color-coded threat alerts, it's hard to get a handle on what exactly "preparedness" means, especially from a business point of view. Yes, it might make sense to keep extra bottles of water and flashlights in the trunk of your car, but is that the kind of thing that's going to keep your call center running? Not necessarily.

The first rule of disaster planning: what you see on the news is not what's going to happen to you. There's a disconnect between the popular perception of "disaster" and what really happens to grind business to a halt. You are not likely to face earthquakes or terrorism. But snow, flooding, errant backhoes churning up telecom cables - these things really do happen often enough to make a dent.

There's both art and science to planning for disasters. The art comes in ballparking scenarios, figuring out who is responsible for taking action when things go wrong, and figuring out contingency plans. It's the science that is often overlooked - the boring, but rigorous and critically important science of risk assessment. Planning for business continuity is like saving for retirement or buying life insurance. You would be foolish to plan for things that are unlikely to happen (asteroid strikes, for example) and neglect what's likely or even certain (old age, children heading for college).

The experts say that what call centers face most often are voice and data outages - they account for 35% of continuity losses, according to planning firm 180cc (Dallas, TX). They say that man-made problems account for just 30% - into that 30% you can pour all the things that make the headlines, including crime, terror, neglect and error. Again, they get the headlines, but they don't stop the phones from ringing as much as you would think from watching the eleven o'clock news.

It's easy to think of ways that the call center can stop functioning. Possible scenarios run the gamut from workplace violence to national catastrophe to disease, food-borne illness, and that wayward backhoe. What you have to do, in essence, is figure out on a sensible scale what's likely and what's not. After that, the question becomes what can you reasonably protect against, and what can't you?