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Integrate mobile communications technology into BC/DR activities

Paul Kirvan discusses how to incorporate mobile devices such as smartphones into your business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

Mobile communications today encompasses a broad range of wireless technology, systems, networks and devices. For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on cell phones, smartphones, two-way radios and satellite phones, each of which can play an important role in your business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) activities. In this article, we'll suggest steps to take for building mobile communications into your BC/DR plans. After that, we'll offer some tips for optimizing your use of mobile communications.

Five steps to take for adding mobile communications to your plans

1. Examine the various types of mobile devices and systems available in the market, and how they can be used in emergency situations.

2. Conduct an inventory of employee mobile devices (this can be part of compiling an emergency contact list and phone tree).

3. Based on how you plan to respond to specific emergency situations, decide how you will use mobile communications in an emergency, e.g., general communications, emergency message delivery, communications with first responders, communications with staff and clients.

4. Add steps to your BC/DR and emergency plans that describe the circumstances for the use of mobile communications devices.

5. Compile lists of all mobile device numbers (and device types and service providers) for employees and members of your emergency response teams in your BC/DR plans, and keep those lists up to date.

Optimizing the use of mobile communications technology

-- When conducting exercises, use mobile communications devices and systems as if a real situation existed, thus ensuring your teams will be comfortable using them.

-- Encourage your emergency teams to use camera and video functions in their smartphones. Assign certain members of your teams to take pictures, in addition to their other duties. Establish a formal list of picture types, e.g., actual rescues, first-responder activities and employee evacuations. Use these images for post-event review and analysis.

-- If you use an automated emergency notification system, be sure that all mobile numbers are included and are up-to-date. When testing the system, contact as many mobile numbers as possible.

-- If you use an emergency notification system, be sure it can send voice and text messages simultaneously, thus increasing the likelihood of reaching your staff and emergency teams.

-- If you use two-way radios, have sufficient chargers to keep phones powered and available for use; know the operational range of contact for these devices; and have additional radios available (or access to an alternative source), in case they are needed.

-- If possible, obtain mobile phone numbers for key first-responders, such as police sergeants, lieutenants and captains; fire department captains and chiefs; and emergency medical team leaders. Include these in your BC/DR plans.

-- Obtain a mobile communications service from at least two providers. Do not have all mobile devices served by a single provider. Keep a list of user names and numbers, the type of device used, and the service provider.

-- When considering using a satellite phone, be sure there is a real need for such a service, as it can be very expensive. Ensure chargers are available to keep the phone ready. Periodically test the service to make sure it works, and consider getting a service from more than one supplier.

-- If you use a managed BC/DR service from a third party, find out whether the vendor offers a free app that your staff can use on their smartphones to access BC/DR plans and other emergency services.

-- Contact your mobile service providers and find out what emergency service options they have available to increase your ability to communicate in an emergency.

-- Create an inventory of spare mobile phones and smartphones that can be quickly activated in an emergency. Ensure that they are served by different service providers.

-- On the remote chance that a mobile device might be damaged or lost or stolen during an emergency, consider locating backup mobile devices at home, in personal cars or other accessible locations.

-- Create an inventory of power adapter cords (compatible with 110-volt electrical outlets and 12-volt car outlets) and batteries.

-- If possible, standardize on the type of mobile phones and smartphones being used, as this will make replacement easier.

-- Consider issuing company mobile phones and smartphones to supplement personal mobile devices.

-- Establish policies and procedures for using social media via smartphones. This strategy may be an important part of your BC/DR plans.

-- Establish policies and procedures for using mobile phones and smartphones in an emergency. Ensure that they are communicated to all employees.

Advances in mobile communications technology will make these devices an even more valuable part of your BC/DR plans and your emergency and incident response activities. Emphasize the safe use of these devices -- e.g., they shouldn't used while driving -- and integrate them into all aspects of your BC/DR programs.

About the author:
Paul Kirvan, CISA, FBCI, works as an independent business continuity consultant and auditor, and is secretary of the U.S. chapter of the Business Continuity Institute and member of the BCI Global Membership Council. He can be reached at pkirvan@msn.com.

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