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COVID: Kiwi organisations less prepared for disasters than Australia

More needs to be done to help New Zealand businesses better prepare for natural disasters, according to a new report.

The results of a recent survey found Kiwi companies lag behind those in other markets in their level of preparation for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frazer Scott, CEO of Plan B, says while the New Zealand civil defence model is designed to prepare the public to maintain their physical wellbeing in the event of a natural disaster, there is little preventative support offered to businesses.

He says greater awareness of the risks facing medium and small businesses is needed to help better prepare them ahead of these disasters and will save millions in lost productivity, prevent job losses, and expedite our economic recovery.

Scott says the recent lockdowns have seen large numbers of local firms caught out with demand for the company's disaster recovery services surging double-digit percentages within a month.

"Our concern is that many of the thousands of small and medium enterprises that make up New Zealand's economy simply cannot afford the in-house resource to better prepare for natural disasters," he says.

"One of the most common issues we have seen through the pandemic is businesses being unable to access their physical infrastructure, meaning even carrying out mundane tasks at this level became impossible for those not deemed essential services," he explains.

"Many companies also work on the assumption that because it's in the cloud it's backed up or indeed secured, which unfortunately is not always the case."

Scott says international research carried out after the first lockdown suggests a large proportion of New Zealand businesses need support to ensure the continuity of their operations.

The results of the survey show New Zealand businesses were significantly less prepared for the pandemic than their trans-Tasman counterparts.

More than half (53%) of respondents indicated their business continuity plan and disaster recovery framework will need to be revamped for future pandemics/crisis - compared to less than a third (29%) of Australian businesses.

"What we have learned from the pandemic is that immediately beyond ensuring our physical safety, we start to look at securing our short-medium term financial needs," says Scott.

"To ensure the nations fiscal survival at this stage we need to look at ways to support business and in particular small to medium-sized firms; the continuity of which is a crucial part of our recovery and the maintenance of our personal well-being in the subsequent months," he says.

"What we want to see is more support for businesses allowing them to better prepare for disasters by helping them to understand their points of vulnerability and barriers to continuity.

"We know that while we can adapt to working from home, the ability to access our records and communicate are fundamental to maintaining business operations."

Something as simple as teaching businesses how to test the robustness of their operations and systems can prevent a devastating level of disruption, says Scott.

"This scenario planning may include testing how quickly and accurately they can recover from various locations and will give them the confidence they have the right solution in place for each specific use-case," he says.

Scott says technology plays a critical role in business continuity and that while SMEs often don't suffer the legacy systems that larger customers have and can often be more agile in moving to outsourced models or cloud services, they can lack the internal resources to build the capability necessary to prepare for a disaster.

He says their advice to businesses is to plan for the known, and the unknown.

"Our advice is to ensure you have a plan to operate your business securely, without access to your facilities. Testing this capability quarterly is critical," Scott says.

"Many organisations back-up their data, but few test it religiously and it should be something that executive teams and boards test for as part of their Business Continuity plans.

"Also, you cant outsource risk, but you can reduce it by outsourcing rely on experts who have multiple redundancies in their systems to protect you and your critical data," he says.

Scott says the research also found more than a third (34%) of Kiwi businesses plan to add working from home into their HR policy and found that NZ business expectations for the economy are more optimistic than other countries, but 40% still think GDP will drop by double digits in 2020.