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What is a Contingency Plan?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Also known as a worst-case scenario plan, backup plan, or a disaster recovery plan, the contingency plan is simply a secondary or alternative course of action that can be implemented in the event that the primary approach fails to function as it should. Plans of this type allow businesses and other entities to quickly adapt to changing circumstances and remain in operation, sometimes with very little inconvenience or loss of revenue. It is not unusual for organizations of different types to have both a master contingency plan that is relevant to the entire organization, as well as plans that are geared toward rapid response in specific areas of the operation.

A contingency plan is often developed by identifying possible breakdowns in the usual flow of operations, and developing strategies that make it possible to overcome those breakdowns and continue the function of the organization. For example, if a business depends heavily on telephone communications to conduct business, the plan may be to create a secondary wireless network that can be activated in the event that the public telephone lines are disabled by some type of disaster. Ideally, the cut over to the wireless network would be seamless, and not interfere with communications for more than a moment or two.

When a contingency plan is created to serve as a disaster recovery plan, the business will often focus on the creation of a process that accomplishes three goals. First, the plan allows the day to day operations of the business to continue without a great deal of interruption or interference. Next, the backup plan is capable of remaining functional for as long as it takes to restore proper function of the primary plan. Last, the emergency plan minimizes inconvenience to customers, allowing the business to continue providing goods and services in an orderly and time-efficient manner.

It is not unusual for such a plan to also be developed for use in non-emergency situations. For example, a marketing department may create what appears to be the ideal marketing strategy for a new product. In order to ensure the success of the product, a secondary marketing plan is developed, making it possible to quickly shift focus to other consumer markets or switch to alternative forms of media promotion in the event that the seemingly ideal primary plan fails to yield the desired results.

Businesses are not the only entities that engage in contingency planning. National governments, local municipalities, and non-profit organizations are all likely to create contingency plans that can be implemented whenever circumstances demand. The preparation of a Plan B to back up the primary plan is generally seen as a wise operational move in any type of organization, even though the hope is that the plan never has to be activated.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including SmartCapitalMind, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By anon124409 — On Nov 05, 2010

Yes there are personal preparedness plans for families. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)has a template on their website and a lot of valuable information. Go online to learn more. They address family requirements and also have stuff for kids.

By BelugaWhale — On Sep 10, 2010

@baileybear - I was thinking somewhere along the lines of planning for hurricanes and stuff... for families rather than a non-profit. I guess it would be considered a "plan B." Like if things didn't work out at a friend's shelter, we would use our bathroom kind of thing. I ran into a lot of contingency plan templates online, but all were business related.

By baileybear — On Sep 10, 2010

@BelugaWhale - Business contingency planning is the most prominent type of planning. While there's plenty of information online to be had with the preparation of disaster contingency plans, the truth is that most of that info does pertain to businesses. I wouldn't know where to begin on a personal level, I guess it would sort of be like a plan "B." Is that what you're thinking of?

By WalrusTusk — On Sep 10, 2010

@BelugaWhale - Contingency plans are thought of from being more at a business angle, but there is plenty of information on emergency contingency plans online that might help you on a personal level.

By BelugaWhale — On Sep 10, 2010

Do regular people have contingency plans? Like regular families and stuff?

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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