If your personal computer has ever crashed without having backed up the files on its hard drive, most likely you remember the panicky feeling that came over you. You may have lost valuable documents, a report you spent hours working on and amazing family vacation photos. Now, just imagine if that same scenario occurred to the servers at the company you own or manage. Chances are that your business has comprehensive insurance policies such as liability, commercial property, etc. Those policies will protect the physical parts of the organization, but will not bring back lost critical data needed to reopen-not to mention repairing the loss of trust from your customers. Unexpected events can happen anytime, so it's important to add one more insurance policy- a thorough plan to recover after a disaster.

The following five steps will put your company on the right path to staying well protected.

Start with an operational analysis
Begin your path to better security by performing an assessment of all current systems, policies and security. Review the security, critical services, passwords and user accounts and backups and data storage. You should also perform a data access audit to inspect your current antivirus software and to monitor internet and e-mail use.

Identify risks
With a complete study done of all your vital resources, you are now ready to look at where you are vulnerable. Do a risk assessment of all the possible threats and learn what factors could be hazardous to your systems. Potential risks could be environmental disasters, power outages, system failures or other situations. Knowing all possible risks will help make for safer plans.

Business survival in downtime and recovery
In the aftermath of an unexpected event, your business will need know what constitutes a mere interruption or whether it's a real problem where a full recovery effort is necessary. Those facts will provide a way for you to prioritize what actions to take immediately after an incident. The goal is to estimate how long it will take to get the business fully up and running again.

Set up a well-qualified recovery team
Should disaster strike, computer systems may be in place to preserve data, but it will be up to key staff to make important decisions and execute operations for a successful rebooting of the organization. The first step in creating a team is to build or acquire an organizational chart to choose the employees that can handle specific duties. Review plans with your team systematically, create scenarios and hold trial runs.

Publish plan and keep it updated
Write out and publish the disaster recovery plan and other important information learned. This key document will be sent to team members, staff, clients and vendors. You and your staff should continually review and update sections. Make sure to update the plan when new applications, hardware and software are installed.

It's really about peace of mind
Future calamities are unpredictable, but a detailed disaster recovery plan will help your business effectively handle unforeseen events. In times of crisis, everyone will know their assigned duties, how to communicate with each other and ultimately how to restore the organization. The entire effort allows your business to enjoy continuity, and you enjoy peace of mind.

Harry Stephens is President/CEO and founder of DATAMATX, one of the nation's largest privately held, full-service providers of printed and electronic billing solutions. You can contact Stephens at