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Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery: 5 Key Differences

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Many professionals operate under the assumption that their workplace will remain largely unchanged from one day to the next, finding comfort in rhythms and routines. Sometimes, however, events disrupt business as usual. A critical aspect of leadership is preparing for those interruptions, creating strategies and plans that can keep core business functions intact even under duress.

Two specific fields address potential business interruptions: business continuity and disaster recovery. These disciplines minimize the impact that a catastrophic event might have on a business’s ability to reliably deliver its products and services.

While both fields are important, and even similar in some aspects, they are not synonymous. There are important differences in business continuity vs. disaster recovery, and those in leadership or emergency preparedness roles can benefit from understanding the core distinctions.

One way to develop a clear understanding of business continuity vs. disaster recovery is through studying emergency management. An online program in this field can offer professionals the skills needed to successfully lead companies through different kinds of crises.

Why Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Matter

Business continuity outlines exactly how a business will proceed during and following a disaster. It may provide contingency plans, outlining how the business will continue to operate even if it has to move to an alternate location. Business continuity planning may also take into account smaller interruptions or minor disasters, such as extended power outages.

Disaster recovery refers to the plans a business puts into place for responding to a catastrophic event, such as a natural disaster, fire, act of terror, active shooter or cybercrime. Disaster recovery involves the measures a business takes to respond to an event and return to safe, normal operation as quickly as possible.

The Importance of Advanced Planning

When businesses face disasters and don’t have the proper plans in place, the effects can be catastrophic. The most obvious effect is financial loss; the longer a business goes without delivering its products and services, the greater its financial losses. Eventually, these losses may force a business to make tough decisions, such as cutting employees. But there can also be technological consequences, including the loss of important or sensitive data.

Having business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place can help companies minimize the consequences of a catastrophic event. They can also provide peace of mind; employees and business owners alike may feel more comfortable in a work setting where there are clear policies for how to respond to disasters.

In many companies, crisis management professionals are responsible for developing and implementing these plans, evaluating and revising them as needed, and training employees to ensure they know how to follow the specified strategies.

Similarities Between Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery

Business continuity planning and disaster recovery planning often seem interdependent. While the two concepts are not the same, they overlap in some areas and work best when developed in tandem.

  • Both are proactive strategies that help a business prepare for sudden, cataclysmic events. Instead of reacting to a disaster, both disciplines take a preemptive approach, seeking to minimize the effects of a catastrophe before it occurs.
  • Businesses can use both to prepare for a range of ecological and human-made disasters. Business continuity and disaster recovery are instrumental to preparing for pandemics, natural disasters, wildfires and even cyberattacks.
  • Both require regular review, and they may sometimes require revision to ensure they match the company’s evolving goals. An emergency management leader will continually test and modify these plans as needed.

Differences Between Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery

A closer look at business continuity vs. disaster recovery reveals some key distinctions. Ultimately, these differences highlight the fact that businesses need to have plans of both kinds in place to be sufficiently prepared for disaster.

  1. Business continuity focuses on keeping business operational during a disaster, while disaster recovery focuses on restoring data access and IT infrastructure after a disaster. In other words, the former is concerned with keeping the shop open even in unusual or unfavorable circumstances, while the latter focuses on returning it to normal as expediently as possible.
  2. Unlike business continuity plans, disaster recovery strategies may involve creating additional employee safety measures, such as conducting fire drills or purchasing emergency supplies. Combining the two allows a business to place equal focus on maintaining operations and ensuring that employees are safe.
  3. Business continuity and disaster recovery have different goals. Effective business continuity plans limit operational downtime, whereas effective disaster recovery plans limit abnormal or inefficient system function. Only by combining the two plans can businesses comprehensively prepare for disastrous events.
  4. A business continuity strategy can ensure communication methods such as phones and network servers continue operating in the midst of a crisis. Meanwhile, a disaster recovery strategy helps to ensure an organization’s ability to return to full functionality after a disaster occurs. To put it differently, business continuity focuses on keeping the lights on and the business open in some capacity, while disaster recovery focuses on getting operations back to normal.
  5. Some businesses may incorporate disaster recovery strategies as part of their overall business continuity plans. Disaster recovery is one step in the broader process of safeguarding a company against all contingencies.

Leadership in Times of Crisis

Crisis management is an important skill for all business leaders. In fact, crisis management draws upon many of the other skills necessary for business success. Analytical and problem-solving skills as well as flexibility in decision making are essential for assessing potential threats and determining how to proactively address them. Communication skills, both verbal and written, are necessary for articulating a plan and training employees on how they should act in response to a crisis.

“Leadership in managing crises can minimize the damage imposed by an incident while lack of effective leadership worsens the impact,” says Naim Kapucu, Pegasus Professor and director of the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida (UCF). “Organizations should have leaders with crisis management competencies to effectively manage disasters and crises based on the contingencies and environmental and organizational factors.”

Crisis management skills matter because any company can experience a catastrophe that limits its ability to function as normal, and often it will have little time to pivot and adapt. “Crises are not a good time to reorganize adequately operating organizational systems, much less try to implement wholesale organizational changes or reforms,” says Kapucu. Having a plan in place, ready to be executed, can make all the difference. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark relief the uncertainty that businesses face and the extreme disruptions that can take place.

Programs such as the University of Central Florida’s online Master of Emergency and Crisis Management can help leaders fortify the knowledge, competencies, and skills they need to help their enterprises weather these times of crisis.

Crisis Management Careers

Crisis management is a key part of several careers. Each of the following positions offers a different level of leadership through tumultuous times.

Emergency Management Director

Emergency management directors develop and execute the plans that businesses follow to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. Strong analytical, problem-solving, delegation and communication skills are essential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for emergency management directors in 2019 was $74,590.

Disaster Program Manager

Disaster program managers may coordinate shelters, manage triage centers or organize other services in the wake of a disaster. These professionals must be skilled in remaining calm under extreme pressure; empathy and understanding are also important. The annual median salary for this role was around $48,000, according to May 2020 PayScale data.

Geographic Systems Information Coordinator

Geographic systems information coordinators use a wide range of data sources, such as land surveys, to help anticipate and prepare for different disasters. Technical skills and data analysis competencies are vital for success in this role. PayScale reports that the annual median salary for these coordinators was around $58,000 as of May 2020.

Emergency Preparedness Manager

Emergency preparedness managers are typically responsible for making sure employees and customers are safe. They may report directly to the emergency preparedness director, whose role is more comprehensive. The annual median salary of emergency preparedness managers was around $69,000 as of May 2020, according to PayScale.

Developing a Career in Emergency Management

Business continuity and disaster recovery plans help businesses prepare for worst-case scenarios; they provide peace of mind, a sense of stability and key safeguards against major loss and disruption. The University of Central Florida’s online Master of Emergency and Crisis Management (MECM) degree program helps professionals prepare for this important work.

The MECM curriculum exposes students to key emergency management skills, including developing, testing and communicating plans. It emphasizes the financial, ethical, political and practical dimensions of disaster response. Find out more about the MECM degree program today and embark on a new career on the front lines of crisis management.