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Last year was one of the deadliest and costliest on record in terms of natural disasters. From the deadliest wildfire in California’s history to the worst hurricane to hit the East Coast since 1969, 2018 brought more than its share of trouble to the US…and put more than one small business OUT of business.

A dental practice is, at its heart, a small business…and one doesn’t own a small business: it owns you. No matter how many staff members you may have, the buck stops with you…and the sustainability of the business is on your shoulders. That’s why a business continuity plan is crucial for every practice. Since we’re at the start of a new year, this is a great time to take a look at your plan…or create one, if you haven’t yet.

Why your practice needs a business continuity plan

Business continuity planning is a preemptive strike, a fallback course in the event disaster recovery becomes necessary. Your plan should take into account the basic item your practice will need to function, should a disruptive (and seldom anticipated) event occur. We’re talking about anything from a simple extended power outage to a data breach to a full-blown hurricane or out-of-control wildfire like we saw last year.

In a recent post, Forbes Technology Council member Monica Eaton-Cardone put it very succinctly: “While you can’t stop nature from disrupting your business, you can minimize the impact with good planning and preparation.”

There are also other types of disasters, such as an accident that takes you out of commission, or a crisis that seriously hits your reputation. Of course, you’ll want to do all you can to mitigate your risk, but taking the time to plan for “what-if” can help minimize business interruption costs, get you back up and running as quickly as possible, and help keep vendors, staff, and patients informed.

How at-risk is your practice?

First off, of course, it’s important to actually have a plan. If you’ve never bothered to put something down in writing, now is the time.

The first step to building your practice’s business continuity plan (BCP) is to assess the potential impact that various disaster scenarios could create. Try to imagine the most viable potential emergencies, then cross-reference that against the likelihood and impact of each event in terms of personnel, assets, finances, or personal danger.

The goal here is to set priorities. Looking at the “big picture” can help you develop plans for major disasters while also helping prepare for minor events such a power outage; it also lets you see how to divide your planning resources.

Developing your plan

Once you have a list of potential emergencies and their likely impact, take it a step further by creating strategies and documenting procedures to maintain services, recover any lost assets, and get your practice back to making money, as quickly as possible.

One part of this process would be creating a list of what actually needs to happen, and in what order. In other words, it’s important to know what to do, but it’s equally important to know what to do first. A few areas to address might include:

  1. Personal safety and safety of staff
  2. Checklists for assessing damage to assets (vehicles, buildings, equipment, etc.)
  3. Prevention of further destruction
  4. Checklists of forms and contacts for insurance and legal purposes
  5. Replacing lost paperwork
  6. Incident-specific response checklists

Once you have a detailed response plan, it’s time to make sure your people know what to expect and what their individual roles are. Gather your staff together and go over plans for various emergency situations. This gives you a controlled setting in which you can hopefully identify gaps in those plans and come up with ways to improve them.

One other area to consider: if trouble-causing event hit your entire community, you might also want to think about providing emergency services to locals who might have been affected

Is your BCP ready?

We often toss around the maxim, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” The reality, of course, typically falls in between those extremes. But a practice with a well thought-out contingency plan has a better understanding of the potential dangers and knows what critical actions are necessary to recover quickly and to minimize business interruption.