An effective business continuity plan is essential to restore company operations, protect your reputation and minimize the risk of serious financial loss in a disaster. A computer outage, for example, costs small and medium businesses an average of $12,500 per day, as of 2011, if their computers are down, according to the software company Symantec. Survival depends on the ability not just to cope with future events but to anticipate the impact these events will have on the organization, according to the Directors & Boards website.

Risks and Impact

A business continuity plan identifies the internal and external risks your organization faces. These range from major events such as hurricanes, fires or floods to other problems such as fraud, telecommunications failures, computer viruses or supply-chain issues. The plan includes an assessment of the risk level, estimating the potential consequences of each type of disaster and the impact on business continuity. It identifies any measures in place to prevent or minimize the risk.

Response and Resources

For each risk scenario, the plan includes an appropriate response. This will describe the actions to be taken, the people involved and the resources required to restore operations. If a major disaster occurs, you may need to set up temporary facilities. The plan identifies the source and location of facilities such as temporary office accommodation, telecommunications systems and computing equipment so key employees can quickly resume work.

Duties and Priorities

A clear command structure is essential in a disaster. A continuity plan identifies the members of the business continuity team with a detailed description of roles, responsibilities and actions. It also sets out a procedure for making critical decisions or escalating responsibilities in a major crisis. Prioritizing people is critical -- if a disaster damages property, you may not be able to restore normal working conditions for all employees in the short term. The plan identifies the key employees who must be operational from the first day. Typically, these would include senior executives, sales and customer service teams, and production-planning staff to maintain service to customers.

Contacts and Communications

Effective communication keeps employees aware of their duties after a disaster. It also helps maintain confidence among customers and others who have a stake in the business. The plan includes templates for internal announcements and news releases covering different scenarios as well as an updated employee directory with contact information. It also includes contact details of suppliers and emergency services. To support crisis communications, the plan lists contact information for key customers, the media and key investors.

Testing and Maintenance

Training and testing is essential to ensure the business recovery teams can fulfill their responsibilities. The continuity plan includes a detailed training program and sets dates for regular rehearsals of the recovery procedures. An emergency plan can quickly go out of date. Risks change and new threats emerge, particularly in information technology, where attacks by cyber criminals have become increasingly sophisticated. The plan names a team member to update the procedures.