Kirsty Rogers, a partner with law firm DWF, said the outbreak of bird flu at poultry processor Bernard Matthews highlights the need for businesses to carry out contingency planning. "Businesses in today's highly competitive environment are judged on their ability to provide a service at all times," she said. "Organisations of all sizes need to have a plan in place so that, in the event that disaster strikes, they can return to normal operations as quickly as possible." Rogers added that contingency planning not just about protecting the business but also about safeguarding employees. "Bird flu, terrorism, floods and environmental disasters are all ongoing threats, however employers should also plan for more common emergency situations such as workplace violence, power or equipment failure and sabotage," she said in a statement. She warns that firms without a contingency plan are not only putting their survival at stake, but could also be breaching their duty of care under health and safety rules. Under health and safety rules, companies and individuals within them can be held responsible for their inability to cope with or recover from a disaster. All organisations have a duty of care and not having a plan could be a potentially violation. Continuity planning, often referred to as a disaster recovery plan, describes how an organisation and will deal with a potential disaster, such as bird flu, terrorism, floods, earthquakes and environmental disasters. Such precautions are taken so that after a disaster a business will be able to either maintain or quickly resume mission-critical operations. Disaster recovery planning includes involving plant managers, who must make a risk-based analysis of business processes and continuity needs. They must also focus on disaster prevention in the plant. Rogers says the first step is to carry out a risk assessment to identify potential threats, and then look at ways to deal with them. Areas that should be considered include examining internal and external communications. Businesses should consider how communications would take place if the phone networks were down. Managers should also consider how they will manage the media by deciding who would be the spokesperson and what information would be given out. Recovery of a company's computer network is also necessary. Businesses should consider what back-up facilities they have in place and the arrangements for protecting customers' data. Managers must also plan how they will deal with staff. Basic procedures, such as evacuating employees, the reception of the emergency services, rendezvous points and central emergency numbers, should be put in place. Staff may also have to be relocated or, in the worst case scenario, may need medical assistance. Other planning considerations includes dealing with financial concerns such as arrangements regarding cheque books, credit cards and company stationery. The security of documents and equipment is also a key consideration during a disaster. Managers need to think how equipment would be safeguarded in the event that the premises are severely damaged. Rogers said that support for the continuity plan must come from the top, but consultation with staff is also essential, as they may need to change their working practices in response to a disaster. To ensure they understand the plan, training should be given to key employees. The plan should also be reviewed regularly to keep it up to date. "No one likes to anticipate the worst but if a crisis does occur, having a business continuity plan in place will enable you to resume normal operations as quickly as possible," she said. "Being well prepared will also help avert bad publicity and project a more positive image of your company to clients, the authorities and the general public."