One really bad day can cost a franchise. Press breakdowns, CTP failures, I.T. issues and a seemingly never ending “opportunity” for equipment and/or system failures that can bring an operation to its knees. We can never truly be prepared for all disasters, but it is our responsibility to plan ahead and be ready for the possibilities.
Establishing reciprocal agreements, creating call lists and ensuring system back-ups are better put into place before a disaster happens, instead of digging your way out of trouble after the fact.
I see two degrees of disaster planning: first, the everyday challenges, and second, the more serious situations.
First, degree challenges you can’t get away from. Every day it seems that something will threaten our “perfect day,” the one in which processors run without a hitch, nothing goes wrong on press, all the deadlines are met, every piece of equipment ticks along like a Swiss watch, and everyone shows up to work on time with a smile on their face. We face these challenges in one fashion or another on a daily basis and while I certainly feel this deserves an article on its own, I’m going to focus on the more serious side of disaster recovery and establishing a formal business continuity and recovery plan.
Forming a Plan
Natural disasters happen, as well as accidents and unplanned events. Preparing for these disasters takes a tremendous investment of time and effort by all members of your team. Sure, you can take the “it will never happen to me” approach, but simply put, you’ll fall short of doing your job.
Several years ago at a property in the Midwest, we developed a detailed business continuity and recovery plan. The plan was solid, covered every aspect of the operation, and is probably still collecting dust under a pile of supplies in the pressroom. We couldn’t have done a better job of putting together a document that would never see the light of day. But, I don’t regret for one moment putting together that plan. It forced us to look at every area of the operation, brought to light things we could do better, showed holes in our departments, where our weaknesses were and how strengths could be better utilized to get us through an extended loss of our facility or our inability to produce a newspaper in-house.
On the other side, a property I worked for in the Northeast was housed in a facility near a creek side. After an intense thunderstorm dumped four to five inches of rain, the area was devastated by flash floods. The functioning pressroom filled with five feet of flood water. With help from area printers and strong management, they muddled through and recovered quickly. The devastating loss of equipment contributed to job losses, moved printing to an outside facility, and created a bit of stress. My point is it can happen to you. When it does, your best defense is to be well prepared.
While I can’t cover all 49 pages of my Midwest plan in this article, for those of you willing to take a shortcut, I’d be happy to send a copy of a business continuity and recovery plan to get you started. As you might imagine, each plan will differ and while I can offer the basics, yours will have to be customized for your specific operation.
Once you’ve developed a plan, be certain managers have a copy to store off-site and quickly accessible.
Start with a simple index listing each area of the operation and who is responsible.
The first page should explain areas covered, plan assumptions, primary participants and the anticipated time period the plan is based on.
Next, a brief example scenario of a disaster. The advantage is to get people thinking. I detailed an event, what employees might see when they arrive, what to expect first, and how it might affect them and other areas of the operation.
Group 1: Press, Prepress, Mailroom and Building Services
Communication first. Put together a progressive phone tree covering each area and responsibilities in each. This is then exchanged with a phone tree from any back-up print site, so both sides stay in sync throughout the event.
Establish reciprocal back-up agreements for printing well in advance. Test plans on a regular basis, i.e. transmitting files and updating changes in press abilities/capacity. List options in the event of press failure or building inaccessibility, page size/Web, how pages will be prepared (tied to editorial and advertising part of this plan).
List how pages will be transmitted, communication of draws, timeframes/deadlines, preprint capability at the receiving facility, delivery arrangements, trucking, destination, remote sites, etc.
Briefly explain how you will address niche publications, commercial work and intercompany products. Detail is key. Laying plans out in advance will make your life easier and take stress off of the team.
Group 2: Editorial
Again, communication is top priority—staff contacts, freelancers/stringers. Include phone numbers, email addresses, inventory of home computers, laptops, software, compatibility, remote capability, etc.
Explain where individuals gather. Editors and paginators will set-up shop, how content is exchanged, acquiring wire services, and how photographers will transmit remotely.
Detail hardware and software needs, listing specific ram, drive requirements, minimum transmission speed and location of equipment.
List websites and passwords to obtain downloads, weather packages, wire services, etc. Explain where backup electronic media (CDs, jump drives, cloud based, etc.) product resides, IT contacts and templates.
List responsibilities, locations and specifics for copy desk, design desk, business, city desk, features and sports operations. List shared equipment or space at other facilities.
Group 3: IT/Online
List locations of hot spares located off-site and how these functions will be operated remotely until you’re back in business.
Detail how IT would populate alternative work-sites for displaced employees and how networks function, how to contact IT staff, locations, how to recover data from systems on-site if access to the facility is not available and connecting to networks at alternative facilities.
Document how websites will be updated, by whom and when, and from what remote location. In addition to keeping news flowing, websites are obviously an important tool for keeping our readers, subscribers and employees updated. Disaster recovery plans, even a few years ago, barely mentioned online presence. Say what you will about newspapers not keeping up with technology and sticking to old fashioned print media. It still amazes me how far our industry has come in such a short period of time.
Group 4: Advertising
The goal is to keep sales informed and motivated in the short-term. How long will it take before we can place ads and get back to business? On day one, focus will be getting a paper out, period. Shortly thereafter, have a firm plan set to place ads and pay the bills. Determine what you’re going to do with special sections i.e. moving dates, scheduling and contacting customers.
Advertising needs a day-by-day plan that gets back the ability to build and place ads in the shortest period of time. Set up in training facilities in which we have reciprocal agreements, work out of hotels/conference spaces, high schools and colleges. Have a firm timeline and detail i.e. phone systems switched over and operational by the end of day one, computers operational and ability to build and place ads on day two, etc.
Plans for advertising occupy nearly 20 percent of my overall plan, not because advertising is more complex, but because advertising is just that important (apologies in advance to other areas who take offense).
Group 5: Media Communications
Communicating with other media outlets is not only important to readers but can be an effective tool for communicating with employees.
This part of the plan considers how we notify the public, advertisers, readers and employees.
It’s important your marketing director and staff are constantly in the know and understand what information is public, private, and they effectively manage timing of that information; understand the nature of the damage, and how it affects delivery/circulation of your products.
What is the revised or anticipated publication schedule, and will we be including advertising/preprints at that time?
Determine initial reports to staff, such as where employees report, if not reporting now, how long until they are required to report? How often will we update information? Who can work from home? What process employees should follow for emergency software purchases to work from home if needed?
Depending on your phone system, IT or building services should forward general service phones to a central location and individual extensions to cell phones or outside lines.
For employees, have predetermined phone number(s) to call. This should be updated with all critical information. A recorded message will provide employees with basic information as to what their next move is.
Like other departments, marketing should determine the need for hardware/software in advance.
Group 6: Circulation
Predetermine where circulation operations will be conducted. Staff can meet at a central location and assigned alternate locations and responsibilities. Each area manager will be responsible for calling direct reports, carriers and independent contractors.
Depending on circulation size, several drop points may be established. Each center having specific truck numbers assigned so carriers know where to go and when papers arrive.
Circulation is a complex department working not only with employees but with many independent contractors. I really can’t detail all areas in this article, but I’ll touch on a few.
- Determine number of trucks needed, arrange for rental trucks, drivers to accomplish delivery to drop points from the central print facility.
- Provide instructions for each driver with addresses, directions and phone numbers to the drop point they are assigned.
- Determine load order for trucks and timing to their return destination.
- Increase pressrun to accommodate standard bundle sizes to eliminate odd counts at warehouses.
- Coordinate with production to start processing operations earlier.
- Have printers and stock in place for bundle tops.
- Coordinate with drivers to do their own odd counts.
- Predetermine load priority from each mobile center, based on location of drop point to carriers.
- In larger drop points, communicate with a PA or megaphone in addition to on-site managers.
- Coordinate with marketing/communications to radio and TV stations to notify readers of potential late delivery times.
- Have back-up labels on the shelf. If your mail is a small amount, use hand sticky labels. If you have a large amount as many of us do, you will have to have a reciprocal agreement with the alternate print site to assist.
- Utilize employees from other areas (mailroom, press, etc.) that may not have a job that day to deliver routes and coordinate warehouses/drop sites.
Group 7: Business Office
Analyze functions necessary in the short term: payroll, finance related to circulation/advertising, credit card and DPS processing, accounts payable, accounts receivable/tracking.
Detail department functions as you would other areas of the operation, such as equipment needs, staffing, location and who will be steering operations.
The business office touches each area of our operation and is the glue that holds us together. Like other areas, they need to have plans in place for both short and long term continuity and recovery.
Group 8: Human Resources
I cannot emphasize enough the role of HR in a disaster.
Both alone and through marketing, HR will be responsible for communication to the employee masses. The marketing director and HR director will coordinate messages to maintain consistency between employees and public information.
Until details of the event are organized and deemed appropriate by HR no information should be released to the public. Employees should not speak with other media, the public, etc. but should refer inquiries to the company spokesperson (marketing director).
HR will work with supervisors to complete injury or illness forms and email or fax the insurance carrier, who will in turn notify the state.
HR will coordinate communications with OSHA and state agencies. HR will notify the local OSHA office in the event of any death related to the event or hospitalization of employees and coordinate with government agencies for necessary assistance.
HR will be available to assist in unemployment processes, benefit filing, workers comp, coordinate the (WARN) Worker’s Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act and follow up on state business closing or mass layoff laws.
Group 9: Other Publications
Most of us have TMC products, niche publications and weekly products. Like all other areas, the publications division needs to follow the same process of establishing meeting places, coordinating employee functions, determining equipment needs, coordinating with production on deadlines and alternate printing sites and with circulation for delivery functions.
The plan goes on with appendixes to detail alternate facilities, emergency contact lists, outside preferred services, a consolidated listing of departmental phone trees, evacuation and drill information, handling of bomb threats and various natural disasters.
I can’t boil down everything necessary here. What I can tell you is that if you don’t have a plan, you’re doing a disservice to your employees and your employer.
My take on disaster plans is you are better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. It’s worth the effort to get your team together and develop a disaster plan before it’s too late.
Jerry Simpkins is the general manager at Hi-Desert Publishing in Yucca Valley, Calif. Contact him on LinkedIn.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.