Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery: Is There a Difference?

Business continuity vs. disaster recovery: how are they different, and does that difference matter?

Though these concepts are certainly related, they are distinct, as we’ll discover in this article. 

We’ll also look at:

  • Business continuity vs. risk management
  • Business continuity plans vs. emergency response plans
  • Business continuity vs. organizational resilience

Staying operational and productive during business disruptions is essential, but to truly stay prepared, organizations must develop a comprehensive approach that extends beyond business continuity planning.

To better understand how these concepts are related, let’s compare business continuity to these other related disciplines. 

Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery

Business continuity is the discipline dedicated to protecting, protecting, and restoring key business functions in the event that normal business operations are disrupted.

Business continuity plans are designed to do just that, by outlining the activities, roles, responsibilities, policies, and procedures that should come into effect during a business disruption.

Disruptions can include supply chain disruptions, power outages, and other disruptions that interfere with the organization’s normal operations. Those disruptions may or may not be classified as disasters, depending on the circumstances and which organization is implementing the plan.

Disaster recovery plans, however, are specifically dedicated to managing and recovering from disasters. 

IT disaster plans, for example, will often include procedures aimed at restoring lost data, digital capabilities, and business services. Natural disasters that compromise the workplace may result in relocation or remote working procedures, in order to maintain employee productivity.

Clearly, both business continuity and disaster recovery are closely related. And in many cases, the two overlap.

However, a comprehensive approach to organizational resilience includes business continuity management as well as other management disciplines, such as risk management.

Business Continuity vs. Risk Management

As we saw above, business continuity programs are built around the protection and restoration of business functions when organizations are faced with significant business disruptions.

However, disasters and crises are not the only threats to an organization’s performance. 

Other business risks can include those related to:

  • The physical workspace
  • Hazardous materials
  • The location of the workspace
  • Crimes within the workplace
  • The economy or the marketplace
  • Business investments and processes

Risk assessment, mitigation, and management are necessary for any organization and, as with disaster recovery, risk management efforts often overlap with business continuity efforts. 

Business Continuity Plans vs. Emergency Response Plans

Emergency response management is yet another discipline that is closely related to those we have covered so far, yet it too has a distinct purpose.

An emergency response plan is designed to be initiated immediately once an emergency occurs. 

That initial response to an emergency can have a dramatic impact on the aftermath and the effect that certain types of emergencies can have on an organization and its workers.

A few examples of emergencies can include:

  • Natural disasters, such as earthquakes
  • Building fires
  • Health emergencies
  • Power outages

Most are probably familiar with fire drills, a common type of emergency response plan that can reduce injuries and save lives. Similar procedures should be established for other emergencies that pose potential threats. For instance, an organization that has branch offices in Japan may want to establish earthquake response plans, since earthquakes are regular occurrences there.

Emergency response plans are designed to save lives, first and foremost, which is why they tend to focus on evacuation, sheltering, lockdowns, and other actions designed to protect workers.

Other secondary objectives include the protection of physical assets, such as technology, equipment, and facilities – but only in circumstances where time is permitting and there is no risk to human safety.

Disaster recovery and business continuity plans, covered above, can be initiated after emergency response plans have been completed.

Business Continuity vs. Organizational Resilience

So far, we have seen a number of management disciplines designed to help organizations cope with disruptions to normal business operations.

It should be clear that a comprehensive strategy is necessary in order to stay truly prepared for disruptions, disasters, and emergencies.

According to organizations such as The International Consortium for Organizational Resilience (ICOR) and The British Standards Institution (BSI), this is the aim of organizational resilience.

As BSI puts it, organizational resilience is “the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper,” which “reaches beyond risk management towards a more holistic view of business health and success.”

ICOR’s organizational resilience framework aligns with this sentiment, claiming that a comprehensive approach to organizational resilience should reach beyond business continuity.

To become truly resilient and survive disruptive change, organizations should engage other management disciplines, including…

  • Crisis management and communications
  • Human resources management
  • Information and communication technology continuity
  • Incident response
  • Information security
  • Financial health and viability

In total, ICOR identifies twelve separate disciplines that should operate in coordination. Organizations that truly want comprehensive and inclusive protection against business disruptions would do well to examine these frameworks further.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.