What’s the Difference between Crisis Management and Disaster Recovery Planning?

What’s in a word? With the multiple definitions of disaster recovery planning already in existence, here comes crisis management as well. Example: let’s say your whole data centre crashes because of a faulty power supply configuration, leaving you with no sales and no customer support, and your IT staff threatens to walk out because of “unacceptable working conditions”. Is that a disaster or a crisis? Is there a difference in the way you should handle it, and will things get worse if you make the wrong choice?

Looking in a dictionary can help understand what’s what in the example above. What is a disaster? It’s a “sudden accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life”, according to the Oxford Dictionary. This also fits with how it’s used in disaster recovery planning. So then, what is a crisis? It’s a “time of intense difficulty or danger” or also “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made”. In other words, our example above has a bit of both. The IT installation stopping (suddenly) causing damage to business is a disaster. The walk-out threat from the IT staff is a crisis: it hasn’t happened yet, but you need to make a decision about it.

This suddenness (disaster) compared to a situation that develops over time (crisis) distinguishes one from the other. Thus disaster recovery planning is done before disaster strikes, because although you can visualize catastrophe happening, you don’t know when it will happen, so you’d better be ready. On the other hand, crisis management plans are typically made when the crisis has come about, even if, arguably, you should be able to see a business crisis coming and avoid it, rather than experience it. Both have a role to play, according to the context.