Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery: 5 Key Differences and the BC/DR Relationship

Business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) are easily confused terms. They seem almost interchangeable, but they’re not quite the same functions. Disaster recovery is actually a part of business continuity and involves a plan for getting business back to normal after a disaster occurs. Business continuity involves a wider breadth of planning and encompasses plans for keeping a business running during and following a disaster or disruption of any kind.

Every organization should have both a business continuity plan and a disaster recovery plan in place before disaster strikes, in order to keep everything functioning as smoothly as possible with minimal disruption for stakeholders. Let’s review five differences between business continuity and disaster recovery while looking into ways the two are interrelated.

1. Scope

A key difference between business continuity and disaster recovery is business continuity is wider in scope, encompassing all business functions necessary to keep the organization running, regardless of what kind of crisis arises. Disaster recovery has a narrower scope, focusing on systems impacted by a disaster that need to be recovered or replaced for an organization to get back up and running.

Whereas business continuity includes strategies to maintain all essential business functions, from supply and delivery chains to human resources and operations, disaster recovery focuses specifically on restoring any adversely affected business functions. For example, a business continuity plan would likely include a strategy for maintaining operations in the event of a cyber attack, while a disaster recovery plan would include steps for recovering any lost data and patching up vulnerabilities to return to business as usual. 

2. Timing

Another key difference between business continuity and disaster recovery is the timeline during which you would implement each set of plans. Business continuity plans are set in motion the moment a crisis occurs and sustained during and after the crisis. In the case of a pandemic, you would implement your continuity plan when it becomes likely your stakeholders are going to be impacted by an outbreak. You would continue to employ any continuity measures, such as working from home and sourcing from backup vendors, until the threat has completely subsided. 

Disaster recovery plans are set in motion after an emergency event is over, and these plans are sustained until business has returned to some semblance of normal. In a pandemic scenario, an organization might begin implementing a disaster recovery plan, which could include bringing employees back to the office, once case numbers dropped significantly and the threat of contagion was minimal.

3. Plan Components

The key components of business continuity plans and disaster recovery plans also vary. When creating a business continuity plan, you should take the following general steps:

  • Form a continuity planning team
  • Perform a business impact analysis
  • Design and implement your plan
  • Train and educate your employees
  • Regularly assess and evaluate your plan

As you’re putting together a business continuity plan, you’ll want to create a list of all critical business functions and consider how a variety of different crisis scenarios could disrupt each of them. Once you have identified potential vulnerabilities, brainstorm strategies for maintaining those functions during a crisis.

For example, if you realize your organization is relying heavily on one or two suppliers, consider diversifying or creating a list of backup vendors. You should also earmark the resources you’ll need in likely crisis scenarios, train personnel to carry out the plan and implement software to enable communication in the midst of a crisis. Your organization must be able to maintain communication with all stakeholders before, during and following a crisis. An emergency mass notification system is often the best solution.

When creating a disaster response plan, you’ll likely take the following general steps:

  • Form a disaster recovery team
  • Identify critical functions and potential disaster risks
  • Design and implement a disaster recovery plan
  • Create backup procedures (in case of cyber attack)
  • Train personnel
  • Regularly test and maintain the plan

When preparing your disaster recovery plan, key proactive steps include conducting a business impact analysis and figuring out how you’ll restore data, critical applications and business operations after you’ve been hit with a disaster or emergency.

4. Processes and Actions

Once you’ve created business continuity and disaster recovery plans, the actions taken to implement each plan will differ.

If your organization is faced with a threat to business continuity, your continuity planning team will take actions appropriate for the specific scenario. In the event of a hurricane, for example, those actions might include:

  • Alerting all stakeholders to the threat
  • Advising employees on emergency procedures and points of contact
  • Transitioning to alternative operations, whether that’s a backup workspace or remote work
  • Maintaining internal network infrastructure
  • Checking in with all employees to ensure safety and administer assistance, if necessary
  • Adjusting supply chains if vendors or partners have been affected
  • Communicating any changes with customers and other stakeholders

Once a crisis has subsided, actions taken toward disaster recovery will include any steps necessary to return to normal. In the case of a hurricane, those actions might include:

  • Assisting any employees who have been directly affected by the storm
  • Rebuilding or restoring any damaged company property
  • Restoring or recovering any lost data or company systems
  • Welcoming employees back into the workplace once it’s safe
  • Bringing production levels back up to normal

Processes and actions taken to maintain business continuity and ensure disaster recovery will depend on the specific crisis, which is why it’s important to consider a variety of scenarios when forming your organizational plans.

5. Stakeholders Involved

The stakeholders involved in business continuity and disaster recovery will overlap substantially, but there are slight differences.

The primary stakeholders involved with business continuity include the business continuity planning team, employees, customers, vendors and partners. Key stakeholders involved in disaster recovery include the disaster recovery team, customers, employees, and critical vendors and partners.

The well-being of stakeholders should be the top priority whenever an organization is faced with a crisis.

The Importance of Communications in Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery

Although there are differences between business continuity and disaster recovery, one of the overall keys to success for both strategies is the emphasis on effective communications. Your teams should have a plan in place for sharing relevant information with your stakeholders throughout a crisis. Timeliness is critical in any critical event. You’ll want to make sure you can quickly send and receive important information. Using a platform built for these types of scenarios can make it easier for your organization to send alerts and notifications.

Business continuity is a strategy for maintaining critical business functions in the face of crisis, and disaster recovery is a key factor in restoring those business functions to full strength. Your organization’s continuity plan should include a disaster recovery plan, and the various team members in charge of each aspect of both plans must work together and be on the same page before, during and after a crisis.

To learn more about how to improve your business continuity and disaster recovery plans, check out our ebook, 4 Misconceptions of Business Continuity Communications (and How to Fix Them).


OnSolve® proactively mitigates physical threats, allowing organizations to remain agile when a crisis strikes. Using trusted expertise and reliable AI-powered risk intelligence, critical communications and incident management technology, the OnSolve Platform allows organizations to detect, anticipate and mitigate physical threats that impact their people and operations.