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What are Disaster Scenarios?

By C. Martin
Updated May 16, 2024
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Disaster scenarios are documented hypothetical situations that may threaten the operation, or potentially even the survival, of a business. As part of a complete disaster plan, disaster scenarios and the accompanying steps to recovery provide the means for a business to recover normal operations after a major problem. This complete disaster kit constitutes a very important document in the business continuity process, which is also sometimes called crisis management.

Most businesses could in theory encounter any number of specific disaster scenarios. It is often impossible to plan for every single eventuality, so it may be necessary to perform an analysis of both large scale and smaller potential disasters. A key activity in disaster preparedness is the selection of which particular scenarios should be fully documented and prepared for with an emergency plan that can be carried out if and when required. Often the business continuity planning starts with an extensive list of possible threats to the business.

While a complete list of potential disaster situations may be very long, representatives of the business may then select a subset from this "threat list." The subset of threats may be chosen partly on the basis of how likely they are to occur. Another important consideration may be whether the business is willing and able to assign resources to mitigate the risk of the threat, and to invest in recovery should it occur. The final chosen subset of threats may then be used to document detailed disaster scenarios for each selected threat.

A fully documented disaster scenario usually provides the details of what the impact would be on the business should the disaster occur. Business functions may be listed together with an assessment of the impact that this particular disaster is likely to have in each area. In addition, the business continuity team may document a list showing which business functions should be recovered first, where possible, in order to minimize the effect of the disaster on key business functions.

Disaster scenarios may be used to construct tests that can be used to prepare the business and its staff for potential disasters. Such a test, also known as a disaster drill, may be carried out by the business continuity team or by other individuals in the organization, either as a periodic or a one off exercise. In addition to testing, regular audits of the business continuity plan and each individual disaster scenario may be considered important.

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Discussion Comments
By anon99677 — On Jul 27, 2010

Disasters are not a self-fulfilling prophecy; they are a fact of life. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, house fires and a veritable plethora of disasters awaits everyone despite their socio-political orientation. Most man-made disasters will occur despite one's desire to have peace. Despite the naivety of most people's desire for peace and world harmony, there will still be those who wish to inflict harm upon others.

A person can sit and wish for peace all they want, usually while basking in the freedoms that conflict has secured for them, but that won't help them when a disaster strikes. Those same people will be the first to demand assistance and support from others who have prepared and, usually, complain because the response wasn't immediately sufficient.

In the real world, bad things happen. If you don't actively work to coordinate an appropriate response, lives may be lost. That's reality. Address the reality first, then sit around hoping for what this world never has had and never will.

By Amphibious54 — On Jun 25, 2010

@ Georgesplane- What you say about blowback also holds true for many of the environmental disasters we, as a society, face. The major difference between manmade disaster scenarios and environmental disaster scenarios is that the later often affect more people and create greater economic damage than the prior creates.

For example, most terrorism related disasters in this country result in fewer lives lost and less economic damage than a large flood or a hurricane. It should be noted, however, that 9/11 and many of the terrorism related disaster scenarios the nation works to prevent could make them just as devastating as environmental disasters.

Either way it goes, if Americans do not change their attitude, the way they manage resources, and the way they are perceived by the international community, disaster scenarios may become (in reference to Anon 89718) reality rather than prophecy.

By Georgesplane — On Jun 25, 2010

@ Anon89718- Your observation that disaster scenario's have become a fixation of the nation (governments and companies) is right on. I would like to see an agency that works to promote peace that is separate from other foreign policy agencies.

I also agree that disaster scenarios are becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I think this also holds true for most industrialized and developing nations; not just the United States. Many of the manmade disasters we prepare for are largely blowback (an unforeseen set of repercussions) from past exploits. The roots of terrorism, which some of the more publicized disaster scenarios highlight, lie in our past endeavors to maintain America's status as the leader of the global economy.

Do not get me wrong...I do not think it was a conscious effort by diabolical politicians scheming to take over the world that we are paying the consequences for. Rather, I believe that this nation, and most other industrialized and developing nations, acts on shortsighted policies that reflect shortsighted economic cycles. We have exploited the world's resources bit by bit, and have come off as insensitive in the process. This will surely create resentment in the eyes of many.

By anon89718 — On Jun 11, 2010

America is so fixated on disasters that it is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy. We need a department of peace and a positive thinking administration.

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