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How to Disaster-Proof Your School District Business Office

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What does business continuity have to do with education?

School districts have learned from experience how to manage crises. They are skilled at notifying students, parents, and other stakeholders in the community. Safety protocols have expanded far beyond fire drills into lockdown and active shooter drills. This year, schools dealt with a pandemic and learned how to flip between in-person and remote instruction on short notice. But unfortunately, schools sometimes overlook the need, or don’t have the resources, to protect technology, operations, and business processes.

In today’s world, protecting these essential operations needs to be a priority — especially in the event of simultaneous disruptions. What if a wildfire or hurricane devastates a community during a pandemic? Cyber breaches are disrupting daily functions at an alarming rate. What if one of your critical suppliers can’t provide essential goods or services? Whatever it is, you need to be prepared.

Protecting essential technology, operations, and business processes needs to be a priority — especially in the event of simultaneous disruptions.

That’s where a district business continuity plan comes in.

In a recent webinar, Michael Herrera, industry expert in Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery, shared practical steps for maintaining the business processes that run behind the scenes at school districts every day. These steps will help your district and schools be prepared when disaster strikes — no matter what the disaster.

Watch the full webinar here, or keep reading for takeaways and Michael’s answers to FAQs. 

Key Takeaway:

When creating emergency plans, school districts must not only consider crisis management but also be ready to maintain the business processes that run behind the scenes.

What does a business continuity plan for schools look like and what can it help you do?

  • Effectively respond to threats occurring from disruptive events that could impact the business
  • Restore business operations in a timely manner that meets the operational needs of your schools
  • Mitigate the effect of disruptive events, such as technological, operational, stakeholder, and financial risks
  • Protect the interests of your school/district before, during, and after a disruptive event

Crisis management is the strategic oversight of a disruptive event. This is where key people in the school or district office become the crisis management team. Their job is to strategically oversee the responses and actions that need to be taken to keep schools running during the crisis. They must also manage the technology recovery to ensure the continuation of day-to-day critical operations.

“The business continuity plan is needed to maintain the critical operations of the district office: technology, human resources, transportation, finance, all of those key things that a school district does to keep its schools operational.” Michael Herrera

It’s clear every district should have a business continuity plan, but how do you practice for it or know that it will work? How do you integrate it with an existing emergency management plan?

District and school continuity plan Q&A

Q: We already have an emergency management plan. How does a business continuity plan integrate with the emergency management plan we already have in place for our schools?

Remember, emergency incident management deals with the strategic oversight of an incident that is already integrated with your emergency procedures. The business continuity plan is focused on the business processes, operations, and technology, all of those things that support your operations and day-to-day education needs.

Q: In addition to having a business continuity plan at the district level, should each individual school also have a business continuity plan to keep its business and student operations running uninterrupted?

Absolutely. Once an event is over and resolved, schools must continue operating. A school’s business continuity plan may not be as complex as a district office plan would be, but each school needs to have its own plan for how it will continue educating students. Also, make sure your critical suppliers have a continuity plan.

Q: How many simultaneous disruptions — say, a pandemic and a data breach — should we be prepared for at the same time?

You need to be prepared for at least two. Based on the results of your threat and risk assessments, consider what two events you might most likely have to deal with simultaneously, and identify opportunities to mitigate that risk.

Q: How long should it take to build a business continuity plan for a school district office?

If you follow the process from a business impact analysis (BIA) threat and risk assessment, you should be able to get this done within four to six months. There are templates to help you get through that. You’ll determine the probability of man-made, natural, and technological threats to your district.

You need to have a team leader in charge of managing the process. They’ll have to identify the right people in each department who know which critical elements must be included. The team will be responsible for crafting a detailed, well-structured recovery plan.

Also be sure to take time to implement and test recovery strategies, making sure the necessary resources and funds are in place for the plan to succeed.

Key Takeaway:

School districts should analyze their risks and be prepared for at least two simultaneous disruptions.

Q: Why don’t more school districts have business continuity plans?

It hasn’t been pushed as a requirement. Schools have been very focused on the safety of students, faculty, and staff through emergency incident management. But people forget about planning how to resume business operations after the crisis has passed. They haven’t thought about how critical it is to keep operational.

Click here to watch the full webinar.

Time is always in short supply. You might wonder whether the value of a business continuity plan is really worth the time and effort you need to put into it — and the answer depends on how quickly you want your school or district to recover from a crisis. Did the pandemic catch you underprepared? It’s likely that it affected most district operations — especially technology. Consider if your school district would have saved time in the long run if you had already had a plan in place to maintain business continuity.