Archive for Events

The Boston Marathon Tragedy

I am always hesitant to immediately write about lessons to be learned from a tragedy such as what occurred during the recent Boston Marathon for fear that it might come across as an ambulance chasing kind of attempt to garner attention or attract more business.  But, on the other hand, it is when the news is news and people are focused on the incident and the meaning behind it, that the lessons can most readily be learned.

First of all, let me make it clear that my first thoughts are always with the victims of such a tragedy.  I cannot imagine the horror and pain suffered by those who were so horrendously impacted by this heinous act of cowardice.  To be enjoying what should be a moment of pride and celebration for just crossing or nearing the finish line with your loved ones waiting to share the accomplishment with you and to have it all interrupted in an instant of violence is simply devastating.  Even though I work in emergency preparedness and crisis management, I cannot help but shed tears every time I watch these events unfold.

There will be many so-called “lessons learned” that come from this incident.  Some of them valid; some of them, simply, the wrong conclusions.  The news media is and will continue to step all over each other trying to get the better story and trying to out-analyze the other channels in an attempt to gain greater market-share.  There is still much to assess and much to learn.  Most of the real, valid conclusions are still weeks away – when, unfortunately, some other news story will steal the headlines and those of us that were not directly impacted will have moved on with our lives.

At this point in time, I can merely speculate on what will be discovered, but I do have some of my own opinions.  I think that this event shows us that the U.S., that for such a long time, has been somewhat void of the risks and threats of terrorism when compared to many of our international friends, must now acknowledge that we are susceptible to these types of risks.  And, in my opinion, I think we will learn that this type of terrorism does not require a sophisticated, organized and well-financed group with a political agenda to carry out such an incident with relatively large impact (considering the numbers of people injured).  No, I think we will learn that any idiot with access to the internet and with evil in their heart can pull off this type of terror.  What this means is – everyone, everywhere is fair target for such a tragedy.

There are already many people, and there will be more, second-guessing the security at this event and calling for more stringent security for future, similar events.  I, personally, don’t think that is the answer.  There is always more we can do to try to prevent these occurrences, but, I think this incident shows us that there is always an opening for terrorism.  Where ever you have mass gatherings, there is an opportunity for someone(s) to do damage.  Yes, we need to do everything we can to prevent these tragedies but there is a point where prevention starts to hinder our freedoms.  The other side of the equation is to be prepared.

I have already heard many people suggest that we need to keep on living, and I agree.  But, we can keep on living with a higher level of preparedness.  I think the people of Boston responded pretty well to the tragedy.  The level of preparedness they had for foreseen medical issues resulting from running a marathon were leveraged to help respond to this unforeseen incident.  The people they had in place managing the event were the right people for responding to this tragedy and, I think, they responded admirably.

There are other things we can do as individuals to be better prepared for incidents such as this.  Having pre-established meeting areas – including virtual meeting places via common people to call – is just one example.  There are others that I am sure you have already read about in other articles.  I am just going to go way outside my area of expertise and way outside the considerations of business continuity and suggest that one way we can help prepare ourselves for these types of tragedies is to remember to say our “I love you”s before we are impacted by these types of events.

I am about to board a plane to the Continuity Insights Management Conference in San Diego.  I am sure the Boston Marathon tragedy will be vastly discussed, formally and informally, by the many professionals that will be in attendance.  I am sure to hear a wide variety of opinionated causes and corrections – some, I will learn from; some, I will shake my head at.  What I am going to make sure I do, however, is to say my “I love you”s before getting on the plane.  That is one lesson we should never forget.

Out with the Old In with the New

Well, we are now several weeks into the new year and, as crisis management and business continuity professionals, we are happy to see 2012 in our rear view mirrors.  Maybe it is just the relative recentness of Hurricane Sandy, or the fact that she devastated such a wide and highly populated area in the United States, but 2012 seemed to have been a very busy year for business continuity planners.  And, this is not just in terms of responses to a number of disasters, but also in terms of preparing for high-risk events such as the London Olympics, the US Presidential Party Conventions and several Political Summits throughout the region.

I guess some of the reasons we were so busy are good reasons.  I am witnessing a much higher level of awareness for the potential of business interruptions occurring from mass gathering events.  I have been somewhat impressed with the levels of preparedness from both the public and private domain for events such as the Olympics and the Conventions.  It seems people are starting to realize the benefits of the private and public sectors working together in preparation for these events.  Coordinating work schedules and being aware of commuting challenges and potential mass gatherings, coupled with work from home solutions and proactive strategies for shifting work-flows and employees away from the congestion during the most active event times, seem to all have helped businesses and communities cope with the challenges of hosting such events.

And, I think, by planning for these kind of scheduled interruptions, our programs have been strengthened and improved, allowing us to better respond to the unscheduled interruptions that seem to be happening at an alarmingly more frequent rate with a much wider footprint.

This article from Huffington Post does a pretty good job in summarizing the challenges we experienced in 2012 caused by disaster.  Even though there are a number of “disasters” associated with wildfires in the US this past year, there are enough other events that support my statement that 2012 was a busy year.

The one quote that stands out to me in the Huffington Post article is from the acting director of the U.S. National Weather Service, Laura Furgione, who states, “The normal has changed, I guess. The normal is extreme.”  Well, if extreme is our new normal, it is up to all of us to make sure that “prepared” is our new posture.

Whereas, I am glad to put 2012 behind us, I am also anxious to make sure that we, as planners, have grown and applied the lessons learned from these events in our 2013 and beyond plans.  Do not fall into the trap of believing what we learned from Hurricane Sandy only prepares us for the next Hurricane.  Focus on the impacts.  Some of the lessons learned from Sandy are applicable for any event that immobilizes a large portion of our workforce, or forces closure of a number of our key facilities, or results in widespread power outages, and on and on.

The German writer, artist, politician Johann Wolfgang van Goethe once said, “The greatest tragedy in all of life is to experience the pain but miss the lesson.”   I hope that the pain experienced in 2012 was not for nothing.

Now, bring on 2013.  I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.

Penn State and Joe Paterno – The Lingering Crisis

Some crises linger.  They hang around a long time, garnering media attention and demanding constant diligence and attention in managing the implications and damages.

Such is the case with the Jerry Sandusky, Penn State University and Joe Paterno situation.  Make no doubt about it; they are all in Crisis Management mode.  And, in this man’s humble opinion, not handling it well.

Earlier today, in advance of tomorrow’s planned publication of the Freeh Report into the Jerry Sandusky “problem”, the Paterno family issued a preemptive statement in support of Coach Joe Paterno.  I do not know who is advising the Paterno family, but this is a classic crisis management, public relations mistake.

Crisis management guidelines suggest to deal with facts.  Do not address rumors, innuendos and speculation.  Do not speculate yourself.  Do not panic.  The Paterno family statement violates all of these rules.  I am not sure what the family hoped to achieve with this statement – but it just comes across as posturing.  It is full of fear, emotions and speculation. No, no, and no.

To fear what the report contains – based on “leaks” or not – displays a fear of what could be found.  Posturing.  To defend findings yet to be published, based on public speculation, only makes you look more guilty.  To suggest that no one can know what a man who is now deceased and cannot defend himself was thinking at the time and then tell us exactly what he thought and how he would defend himself is disingenuous.

In my opinion, the Paterno family would have been better served to simply wait.  Wait for the report to come out and then, if appropriate, counter the very specific findings (facts) that the report contains.  In other words – do not panic.

Here is another piece of free advice for the Paterno family and any other individual or group mixed up in this mess.  It is a huge public relations mistake to issue any comment on this ordeal without, specifically and upfront conveying empathy, sympathy and compassion for the victims of these crimes.  The Paterno family statement failed to do this.  Yes, they say Joe Paterno has been the only individual to admit he wished that he had done more.  But, they do not specifically say why?  Why does he wish he did more?  To save the damage it did to the University?  To the Football Program?  To the Joe Paterno legend?  Be specific … you must say first and foremost that you are sorry for the young men victimized by this monster for years after you had the ability to stop it!  I am sorry, but the family statement still sounds as if they are claiming Joe Paterno is the victim here … he is not.  They appear more worried about saving the Paterno legend than they are about protecting young men from being molested.

Furthermore to suggest that Joe Paterno was manipulated, fooled and deceived by Jerry Sandusky is not really a glaring endorsement or quality defense for this man that was supposed to be in control of the football program at such a prestigious university.

If you really have the need to make a statement, how about this:  “The bottom line is, the impact that the Jerry Sandusky case has on our Father’s legend is of little consequence.  All of us, and Joe included, are concerned that this institution, this community and this world, learns from this affair to ensure that future Jerry Sanduskys cannot roam free taking advantage of systems set up to help young men to weave their evil.  In the long run, Joe’s legend will stand on its own merit.  Right now, we must focus on the damage done to these young men and ensure this does not happen again here or elsewhere.  We are confident that, knowing the facts now, Joe would be at the front of this movement to fix the problem we were so blind to.”

Like I said, this crisis will linger.  There will be plenty of more opportunities to issue statements and many more situations where public relations and crisis management techniques will be put to the test.  Please, try to remain focused on facts.  Do not address nor participate in speculation.  Do not panic.  And, by all means, never forget who the real victims were/are in this crisis.

The “Stand-Down” Employee – An Outside the Box Idea

Every business continuity program includes a number of employees who do not support time sensitive business functions.  These employees are not assigned seats in the alternate recovery site; are not expected to work from home; and, are not targets to relocate to other locations.  In general, these employees are asked to “stand-down” during the business interruption event until such time as an interim work location is established or the production facility is restored and ready for re-occupancy.

Many programs will note that these employees may be called upon to perform other emergency response and/or restoration activities to help the company respond to and recover from the event that caused the business interruption.  And some programs go as far as to include information in their employee databases regarding special skill-sets or other attributes (such as, whether or not they have four-wheel drive vehicles) to consider on how to possibly re-deploy these individuals to help in this regard.

I also like to caution management not to forget about these employees as they will soon be concerned about their status in the company; whether or not they still have a job; and, what their compensation status is while they “stand-down”.  History has shown that if management does not keep these individuals informed of their status and periodically communicate with these individuals they will start calling in and hunting you down to give them the answers and reassurances they are looking for.

Most HR plans fall short of defining an absolute policy with regards to how these employees will be addressed during an outage, other than to establish it as a task that they evaluate the situation, make a case-by-case determination as to how the situation will be handled and define the tools and means to communicate that to the employees.  All in all, I believe that this is a valid strategy and position to take.

I am working with one organization that is considering taking this to another level with a program that, I think, is very creative and resourceful.  This organization is considering establishing a position in their Crisis Management Program responsible for organizing a Community Response and Relief Team to provide whatever assistance and relief they can to others in the community that may have been impacted by the event that caused their business interruption.  This team would be comprised of “stand-down” employees who volunteer to be members of this program.  This type of program may be similar to and could possibly draw upon the practices employed by airlines’ CARE programs for responding to an aviation disaster and providing compassionate assistance to impacted families from the incident.

This idea is still just on the drawing board but it is an idea that I thought others might wish to consider and, perhaps, something others have already implemented.  If anyone is willing to share their ideas on this or can share examples of where it has been implemented, we would love to hear from you.

I, for one, would like to see this idea come to fruition at this organization and would love for it to catch on at others.  I will start exploring this option at other organizations I work with should the opportunity present itself.

Are We Prepared for the Next Disaster?

I found and listened to this NPR radio story titled, “Is the U.S. Prepared for the Next Disaster?”.  Even though this interview was conducted a year ago, I think the message is still valid and important.

I think the interviewee, Craig Fugate, does a good job in identifying a problem with past disasters being a failure to engage the proper level of support through a formal request for assistance.  Although Mr. Fugate doesn’t use this term, I like to label these the “triggers to engage”.  One of the biggest problems with the response to Hurricane Katrina was that Federal authorities assumed the trigger to engage was a call from the local authorities, whereas the local authorities thought the trigger to engage was the event itself.  While Federal agencies were waiting to be asked for help, local agencies were sitting and waiting for the help to arrive.  Meanwhile, crucial time was slipping by and the losses and damages were escalating.

I was glad to learn that FEMA now self-engages not only when an incident occurs but also when the threat of incident rises.

I think this is an important lesson to learn and address in our own plans.  I think it is important to identify and practice those “triggers” for engaging certain components in our Emergency Response, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Programs.  What are the “triggers” for: putting vendors on alert; communicating with employees; mobilizing resources; alerting customers and other stakeholders; declaring a disaster; etc.?

Also, Mr. Fugate notes that having a single entity in charge introduces a single-point-of-failure in the response process.  Whereas, I understand his point, I also think it is important to mention that when you have lots of links in your communication and control “chain” you have lots of opportunity for the chain to break.  If the mayor engages the governor who engages the president – well, there are lots of mis-engagements that can occur.  And, if one link in the chain breaks, all the links that follow are missed.

I agree with Mr. Fugate that we are better prepared today than what we were in the past, but saying you are in better shape today than you were when you were grossly out of shape, does not mean you are in good shape.  Unfortunately, I also believe that the further removed you are from the last significant event, the more likely you are to get back out of shape.  We are never more prepared to respond to a disaster than we are immediately after a disaster occurs.  Lessons learned are fresh in the mind, implementation guidelines and procedures are reviewed, refreshed and rehearsed.  But, as time goes by, we start to, once again get complacent and once again start to slip back into our bad habits.  And, as soon as we start to believe we are in good shape, I start to get more worried.

In conclusion, I think this is a terrific interview with important messages that are worth listening to again.  I encourage you to think about and rehearse the “triggers” in your program and to identify potential weak links in your communications and engagement chains.  And, never allow yourself to believe we are prepared for the next disaster … continue to work on improving your level of preparedness.  After all … how do you think people would have responded to the question, “Is the U.S. Prepared for the Next Disaster?” on September 10, 2001?

Time Inc. Special’s, “Disasters That Shook The World”

While traveling this week, I picked up a magazine/book published by Time Inc. Specials titled, “Disasters That Shook The World”.  This is a very simple and interesting read.  It is a quick synopsis of a number of disasters with no great detail, but some very interesting insight into these events.  The articles focus on the human element and what was learned about our responses to these events and what could have been done to mitigate the impacts of, and in some cases prevent, these disasters from occurring.

Many of the case studies included in the book were very familiar to me, such as:

  • The Sinking of the Titanic
  • The Hindenburg Disaster
  • The Great Chicago Fire
  • The Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster
  • The Exon Valdez Incident

This book also included relatively recent case studies, such as:

  • The Costa Concordia Accident
  • The Miracle on the Hudson
  • The Tsunami in Japan
  • The Oil Spill in the Gulf
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • The Nevada Air Show Crash

And, this book included case studies of lesser known and forgotten events that should be remembered for the lessons learned and changes they influenced.  These included:

  • The Triangle Sweatshop Fire in NYC
  • Munitions Ship Explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire and Stampede in Boston
  • Circus Fire in Hartford, Connecticut

And a few more.

Even with those that I was familiar with, the articles included shared something that I was not aware of.  Anyway, I just found the read to be fascinating and great airplane fodder, although the chapter about “Disasters in the Air” I was very careful not to leave those pages exposed to my fellow travelers.

If you happen to come across this magazine at the Newsstands, I recommend you pick it up.  It will only take you a short time to read it and you might find it interesting and, perhaps, even learn a thing or two.

Business Continuity Planning – Beyond the Doomsday Scenario

At the Continuity Insights Management Conference 2012 that I recently attended in Scottsdale, AZ, there was a lot of conversation around PS-Prep which bled into the discussion of “Why get certified” or, the more generic question of, “Why perform business continuity planning?”  An oft repeated answer to this question, echoed by business continuity planners around the world is, “Because without a plan you will not survive as a company.”

I think this is a disingenuous answer without any history to support it.  Where exactly is the evidence of this fact?  What historical data can you share with me, or the CEO you are trying to convince, that this is the case?  I am confident that you can dig up cases of small companies that did not survive a disaster, but where is that story about the big guy who did not survive the disaster?

The one and only case study I can think of off the top of my head is Enron, but that was a disaster of a different kind.

Look at BP and the horrific Gulf Coast disaster – they survived.  Did they have a plan in place for this?  Maybe … if so, most professionals would argue against its effectiveness.  Were they certified?  No.

Look at Cantor Fitzgerald, the one company most widely spoke about concerning the extent of their losses during the events of 9/11.  Survived.  With much loss and many significant challenges, but they are still in business.

We found this article that lists 8 Infamous Business Disasters – those companies all survived – albeit some under a new name and different business model, but they did survive.  Now, not all of these cases are the kinds of disasters we plan for, but I can’t find that one poster child event that proves the statement, “Without a business continuity plan, you will not stay in business.”

Now look, I am a business continuity planner.  I make a living out of helping companies put these programs in place.  I want … no, I NEED … CEO’s and Boards of Directors to embrace the need for these plans and to invest in professionals like me to help put them in place.  But, I think we need a better sales pitch than the shallow threat of; this is needed to survive a disaster.

I don’t think we need C-level executives to buy into this all or nothing proposition with business continuity planning.  No, I think that the message should be:  Business continuity plans will allow us to mitigate our losses should a disaster occur. The goal is to ensure the investment we make in our plans and solutions is justified by the potential losses that could occur considering the probability that an event happens.

The losses that could occur is measured by performing a Business Impact Analysis and the probability that an event happens is measured by a Risk Analysis.

We plan because it is a reasonable business practice to protect our assets and our stakeholders against losses that could impact the market value of our company not just if, but when, a business interruption event occurs.  If you want the answer to, “Why get certified”, check out this earlier blog we posted.

We need to sell business continuity planning using business terms that executives can understand and stop with the doomsday scenario selling technique.  At least, that’s the way I see it.

In the meantime, if you can share those stories with me that support the position companies will not survive without plans, I would love to read them.  Thanks.

Preparing for the London Olympics

I am assisting a client in developing contingency plans for their London offices in preparation for the upcoming 2012 Olympics.  We are researching possible risks, threats and disruptions based on past Olympics and past London-area events.  And, believe me, there is plenty of material there to raise a concern.

In this process we have developed two paths of recommendations: Precautionary Strategies and At-the-Ready Contingencies.

Precautionary Strategies are actions we recommend be taken to lessen the possible impacts of disruptions that are likely to occur.  These actions require no triggers to enact; we recommend following this course of action simply as a matter of business during the Olympics.

Precautionary Strategies include:

  • Scheduling work-from-home times where the capability already exists and the disruption to work flow negligible.
  • Rerouting business processes to non-London offices where this can be easily accomplished and does not stress the remote offices work flow.
  • Utilizing facilities outside of the Olympic parameters where possible.  This may include working out of their business continuity work sites if this can be managed at little expense.

Precautionary Strategies will be temporary, low cost, easy to implement and low disruption activities that can remove some of the stress that the Olympic events may cause.

At-the-Ready-Contingencies are more of your typical business continuity solutions that will be engaged only if threats and disruptions occur.  These actions will include identified triggers that must be monitored and tracked throughout the Olympics.  Most of these strategies, hopefully, are already in place as part of their existing Business Continuity Program.

The London Olympics will certainly disrupt the commuting processes to London area businesses and introduces a threat of civil disorder, terrorist activity, and security breaches.  London area companies should be well aware of the Olympic footprint and understand the traffic flows that may interfere with their employee’s commutes.  And, these interruptions and threats will exist for pre-Olympic activities as well as for the Paralympics that follow.

Where possible, we believe London area businesses should evaluate the possibility of minimizing their London-based business activities during this event to lessen the possible impacts to their firms.  Wherever you can take precautionary steps at low expense, it might be advisable to do so.  And, of course, you should brush the dust off your Business Continuity Plans and ensure that your recovery strategies are still viable given the risks this event incurs.  For example – if your alternate site locations are also within the Olympic footprint, you may need to establish a temporary other location during this event.

Certainly, there will be plenty of security provided and lots of precautions and contingencies put in place by the local and national authorities.  Be sure you are aware of these plans and make sure that your plans will work within the parameters provided.

We hope for a smooth and exciting Olympics in 2012 – let’s just hope all of the excitement is on the athletic fields and within the competitive framework of the games.

Seattle Area Snow and Ice Storms

All of last year, we in the Seattle and Puget Sound area, sat comfortably by watching the rest of the United States, and rest of the world, suffer through one weather and geological disaster after another.  Well, 2012 is letting us know early that we will not have that same luxury this year.

So far, I am one of the lucky ones who still has power in my office and home as the number of outages keeps increasing from falling tree branches and power lines.  As I sit here typing, however, the lights are flickering and the trees outside my window are looking ominous.

Yesterday, this area was hit with one of the worst snowfalls in recent history and today that snow is being covered with a coating of ice and freezing rain adding to the already serious travel conditions.  The Sea-Tac airport has been closed all morning and, like I said above, power outages are steadily increasing.

Tomorrow, no doubt, as the temperatures continue to rise, will bring floods warnings to the area.

Weather emergencies seem to have their way of eventually getting to all regions of the world.  I doubt there are too many locations where you are safe from all tricks that Mother Nature has up her sleeve.  Undoubtedly, your time will come when you need to respond to or wait out a weather related event.

Last year, that was true for almost all areas of the United States except the West Coast and Pacific Northwest.  It’s only January 19 and the Pacific Northwest is already experiencing its first significant weather emergency in 2012.  I am sure we will be reading stories of business challenges and losses following this event in the coming days.  Airlines and airport services are already taking a huge hit over these past two days, not to mention those individuals relying on these services to get to their job locations.

Are you and your company prepared for what might be in store in 2012 for your part of the world?  I am sure, time will tell – we just don’t know when or what will measure that.

Deadly Volcanoes

Last night I stumbled upon an interesting episode of “Nova” on PBS – “Deadliest Volcanoes”

Now I am not suggesting everyone update their emergency preparedness and business continuity plans to prepare for a volcano eruption, but it did present a pretty scary scenario of just how devastating a volcano can be.  We even have recent history of how volcano ash clouds can be very disruptive to the air travel industry with the recent eruptions in Iceland – (Eyjafjallajökull in 2010) and Alaska (Mt. Redoubt in 2009)

There were stories included about potential eruptions all over the world, including some relatively highly populated regions, including Naples, Italy; Japan; Yellowstone and others.  The Yellowstone situation is actually pretty interesting, because it is not what one would normally think about when considering volcanic eruptions.  The Yellowstone “super volcano” does not include the cone shaped mountain spout that most of us associate with volcanoes. 

Then they started talking about the volcano that practically sits in my backyard!  I am awed by the sight of Mount Rainier each and every clear day that she appears on my horizon.  I have lived here for only 4 years, but natives of the area tell me she is always an amazing sight that you will never get used to.  I knew Mt. Rainier was an active volcano – similar to her sister mountain, Mt. St. Helens, which erupted relatively recently in 1980 with significant damages being incurred – but, never really thought about the risk too much.  Well, this episode has given me a little greater appreciation of what could be in our future.  Interestingly enough, this segment suggested that the eruption itself, as devastating as it may be, would probably be the least of our worries.  No, there is a phenomena known as a Lahar, which is a catastrophic mud and rock slide that flows down the volcano into the valleys below.  A Lahar caused by an eruption in Mt. Rainier has the potential to reach all the way to Seattle destroying much of what lies in its path.  The nearby town of Orting, WA, even has a Lahar warning system installed in their community. 

I found this episode to be very educational and informative.  You may want to watch it, too.  Unfortunately for me, my seven year old son was listening to the show from another room and is now terrified by that beautiful mountain that we often hike near and around.  I hope he is not so scared that he won’t want to take another hike out there with me – it is truly inspiring. 

Check out this show if you have time – and, check out the risks that might be near your places of business.