Disaster Response – Enforcing Time Limits

Do you have a policy in your business continuity, disaster recovery, emergency response and/or crisis management program that establishes a limit on the number of hours responders can work before requiring a mandatory break?  Are you in position to enforce this policy?  Do you enforce it during recovery tests?

I know that during time of crisis people rise to the occasion and can sometimes exhibit superman (or woman) like powers and appear to go strong for many, many hours – but the fact of the matter is, the longer they are active, the less effective they are likely to be and the more errors or poor decisions they are prone to make.

I strongly suggest that your programs – all of them, technology recovery teams as well – have a stipulated policy that no one individual can work for more than 12 straight hours without taking a break.  And, I highly recommend that you have individuals on your team responsible for ensuring that this policy is followed. 

I think a 12 hour on, 12 hour off schedule should work fine, requiring only two subject matter experts for each role in the program.  I would prefer three 8 hour shifts – this can still be accomplished with just two individuals – but 12 on / 12 off makes it easier to ensure your primary team member is on during the most important 12 hours of the day or night.

I know it can be difficult making the second shift team members stay away from the response during the 1st twelve hours following the disaster, but you need to let them know how important it is that they show up 12 hours into the crisis, rested, refreshed and ready to operate. 

I also recognize that the 12/12 shift does require some turnover time from one shift to the next, but we need to make sure that that turnover does not draw out too long.  It will be tough to get the first shift team members to remove themselves from all the activity after 12 hours, but it is for the benefit of the individual and for the benefit of the organization that they should be required to remove themselves from the event and get some rest.  I think it is also important to have them physically removed from the crisis, as much as the situation allows, and put up in a location where they can rest undisturbed and away from all the activity.

I know this is not easy.  It is not easy for me to follow my own rule.  But it really is for the benefit of all that this policy be established and enforced.  I remember the old days, during mainframe recovery tests, where teams of us would go almost 48 hours non-stop in the recovery process.  And, still today, there are technology, network, database and other recovery teams that have few, or even a single, subject matter expert that will work on an issue until it is resolved no matter how long it takes.  I think it is up to us, as planning professionals to identify these employee-related, single points of failure in our solutions, communicate the problem to management and seek options for remedying this exposure.

If you have technology recovery tests scheduled for more than 12 hours – you need to let it be known that no one individual will be allowed to participate in the test exercise for more than 12 hours – and, you need to make sure that that rule is enforced.

There are actually companies that provide employee health and well being services who can help you enforce this rule and help provide mental health counseling for employees impacted by and/or participating in crisis situations.  You may want to check them out for advice on how to implement this particular component of your program.

This blog was written in less than 12 hours – just so you know.

Thank you for your input.