Disaster Recovery vs. Business Continuity: What's the Difference

The Basics of Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity 

Business continuity and disaster recovery are two must-have strategies for organizations looking to survive an outage event, prevent downtime, and weather disruptions to their business operations. Each plays a distinct role in crisis management. 

Let's explore both strategies and why organizations need to leverage them to build resiliency and ensure service continuity in the face of disruptive events. 

What is Business Continuity? 

Business continuity (BC) refers to the people, technologies, processes, and framework that organizations need to ensure the continuous delivery of critical business activities during a disaster event. BC helps ensure that your people and business premises are safe and that essential services, infrastructure, and IT systems stay up and running. It also focuses on how organizations can prevent such disruptions from occurring in the first place.  

A business continuity strategy is captured in a business continuity plan. This plan is a predefined set of actionable steps that detail how an organization will continue to operate and maintain critical business functions during a disruptive event.  

What is Disaster Recovery? 

Disaster recovery (DR) is quite similar to business continuity and is often described as a subset of business continuity. However, it focuses exclusively on maintaining the IT/Technology aspect of an organization's operations, particularly the hardware/software systems and infrastructures that support critical business functions.  

Disaster recovery is concerned with maintaining the availability of these critical systems and infrastructure when an emergency or outage event occurs. This usually involves switching applications, databases, and services from the primary to a secondary/backup location and then reverting to the status quo once the emergency is over.  

4 Differences Between BC and DR 

A robust business continuity and disaster recovery plan can help minimize the impact of a disaster on the ability of organizations to reliably deliver products and services. While both disciplines are similar in several respects and can be used to address disruptions to business/organizational activities, they are not synonymous.  

Let's take a look at some of the differences between business continuity and disaster recovery. 

Area of Focus 

Business continuity has a broader area of concern. Disaster recovery only focuses on restoring IT infrastructure and data access while business continuity is concerned with maintaining the organization's ability to remain operational. Essentially, DR is all about recovery while business continuity focuses on continuity of operations. 

Key Objectives 

Done right, disaster recovery prevents or reduces the negative repercussions of technology failures while business continuity helps reduce operational downtime. The latter aims to ensure that organizations can still execute critical day-to-day business activities in the event of a crisis.  

Combining and aligning business continuity and disaster recovery practices is the best way for businesses to holistically prepare for disastrous events. 

Actionable Plans 

Although the actual business continuity plan will vary based on industry vertical, geography, organization size, and scope of business activities, most BC plans are structured to cover the following scenarios:

  • Threats to the integrity and safety of data, endpoints, and digital assets 

  • Data center disasters 
  • Loss of connectivity and software failures 
  • Attempts at CEO fraud 
  • Cyber-attacks (such as APT attacks, phishing attempts, DDoS attacks, ransomware, etc.) 
  • Theft, vandalism, and similar criminal acts 
  • Disease outbreaks and pandemics 
  • Regional or local power outages 
  • Floods and fires in offices or on-site server rooms 
  • Natural disasters (wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.) 

A DR plan centers around the following steps: 

  • Preparation — how well the organization is prepared for an IT-related incident 
  • Reaction — how the organization intends to respond to an outage incident to ensure the availability of systems and data 
  • Recovery — actionable steps required to restore IT operations to its original state. 

Essentially, disaster recovery is a subset of business continuity and every BC plan includes a way to restore IT functions. 


DR prepares for exactly the same type of events as a BC plan would, but limits its lens to software, digital and IT-related assets, such as: 

  • Cloud computing 
  • Mission-critical apps and software 
  • Off-site edge servers 
  • Customer-facing apps 
  • Valuable business data 
  • Network infrastructure and endpoints 
  • In-house servers and other hardware 

A BC plan covers all the above but goes much deeper than a DR plan would to encompass how organizations respond to an incident in terms of PR strategies, alternative office locations, employee safety, crisis management, and the like. A BC plan is triggered once a disaster occurs and DR typically kicks in after an outage event or disaster triggers the initial phase of the continuity plan. 

Wrapping Up 

A major part of any effective business management plan is preparing for potential disruptions to business activities. This is done by designing plans and strategies to keep core business functions operational despite disastrous events. As such, the need for robust BC and DR practices is gaining increasing importance due to the prevalence of disasters such as data breaches, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. 

In larger organizations, crisis management professionals are tasked with developing, evaluating, updating, and implementing these plans as needed. They also train employees on how to respond and execute the actionable steps detailed in the BC or DR plan. For small to mid-size businesses in Florida, this responsibility may fall on business owners and/or their managers.   

It's best to be proactive about preparing your business for sudden, cataclysmic events by putting robust strategies in place to preemptively resolve the fallout of ecological and man-made disasters on your business operations. Despite how effective your BC or DR plan is, always schedule a regular review to determine if the plans are still adequate for your business' changing needs and a rapidly evolving marketplace. 

From Recovery to Resilience: Let's Talk Business Continuity; schedule a conversation now:

Tags: ,