Tag Archive for table top exercises

Marketplace Empathy

Safe Harbor Consulting has been successful in assisting a number of organizations with their Table Top Exercise Programs for business continuity, disaster recovery and crisis management solutions.  One of the first challenges we face in the exercise planning process is to settle on the right scenario for the exercise.

Of course, the first thing we do is to get our client to forget about the scenario for a moment and list those things within your programs that you want emphasized in the exercise.  For example, we ask questions like:

Do you want the scenario to include death and injury of employees and guests?  Or, keep the focus on business interruption?

Do you want to address damage assessment procedures or just have the scenario result in the loss of access to facilities?

Do you want the scenario to result in a long term outage (weeks or months)?  Or, a short term loss (hours or days)?

Do you want the scenario to be an immediate impact and obvious disaster?  Or, an escalating problem that “rolls” into a disaster?

Knowing the answer to these questions will help us land on the proper scenario.

But, this scenario discussion also leads us to talk about another interesting phenomena in business continuity planning that I am not sure I have heard anyone else talk about.  Many times, I find myself trying to talk the client down from those “spectacular” disaster scenarios to scenarios that are more likely to occur and, believe it or not, more likely to offer a greater challenge to your organization.

The phenomena I speak of is a concept I call “Marketplace Empathy”.

One of the factors that will measure your success in responding to and recovering from a business interruption event is how well do you meet the outside world’s expectations?  In those newsworthy, high impact, catastrophic events that impact you, your costumers and your competitors alike, you are not necessarily expected to be up and running the next day, or even weeks or longer.  The marketplace, as a whole, can empathize with your dilemma and will allow you the luxury of time to get back to business as usual.

This will not be the case when your business interruption event is caused by a less newsworthy, low impact event that only impacts you.  If your Call Center is down because of a fire in your telecom office that takes your PBX down you are not going to be granted that same level of forgiveness as when a tornado wipes out the entire town where your Call Center happens to be located.

Marketplace Empathy.

With it, RTEs (Recovery Time Expectations) will expand.  Without it, RTEs will shrink.

With it, the news will center on the event.  Without it, the news will center on your inability to deliver.

I do not believe Marketplace Empathy is a concept that should influence your planning process, but it is something you should consider when planning for and/or executing your Table Top Exercises.

The fact is, RTOs (Recovery Time Objectives) and MADs (Maximum Acceptable Downtimes) are planning targets based on BIAs and other informational input, but the RTEs will be influenced by the scenario you are impacted by and responding to.  When you go with the Tom Clancy-esque type of scenarios in your Table Top Exercise you risk having your participants focusing on the event itself and you allow people to challenge the real need to recover the business when the impact is so great and so many people are affected.

Marketplace Empathy.  Just something to consider when planning your next exercise.

Earthquake on the East Coast

Sometimes reality exceeds the imagination.  Here at Safe Harbor Consulting we have the priviledge of creating and facilitating emergency response and business continuity exercises for a number of organizations.  One of the first challenges we tackle in each case is to select a scenario that is feasible, yet not overdone, realistic and believable.  Up to about one hour ago, creating an exercize for an earthquake for companies on the East Coast of the United States, did not fit that criteria.
How many organizations up the eastern seaboard of the United States had practiced earthquake response plans?  Not many – yet there are several, overdue fault lines all along the east coast, including a few that put New York City at risk.
Know your risks and threats.  Safe Harbor Consulting can also conduct a thorough Risk Analysis that helps identify those risks that may threaten your facilities.
I will be closely watching the news reports to see how folks fared this afternoon.
I hope all of you did and are doing well.

The BIG One vs. The Most Likely One

I think sometimes we get carried away with the potentially sensational nature of emergency management and disaster recovery planning.  I have worked with a number of individual agencies, companies and consortiums who want to do table top exercises for huge, sensational scenarios with borderline Armageddon-like impacts.

Whereas, I am fine helping them prepare for and execute such exercises, I like to warn people that, in terms of business continuity planning, these scenarios are less likely and, believe it or not, potentially less challenging to individual businesses than the isolated and less spectacular building outage due to fire, power-failure or some other similar, mundane event.

Sure the emergency response and triage following an earthquake, tsunami, dirty bomb, etc., will be spectacularly challenging and chaotic, but, if you want to exercise your ability to recover critical business processes, you should consider the following issues.

Remember, in the aftermath of a huge, wide-area disaster:

  • Your customers are impacted and may not have a demand for your services during the crisis.
  • Your competition may be impacted and not in a position to take market-share from you.
  • Given the nature and newsworthiness of the event, the expectation that you are in business will be impacted.  The marketplace will be more tolerant of your downtime.

The greater business continuity challenge is…

  • If the disaster only happens to you.
  • Customers are seeking your services and less understanding that you cannot perform.
  • Your competition is fully functional and ready to take your customers away.
  • You do not have marketplace empathy.

So, again, I simply wish to caution you as you plan your next table top exercise; focus on what you want to test.  If you want to exercise your emergency response posture and the organizations in place to respond to a wide-area disaster, okay, go with the big event.  But, if you want to exercise your ability to get back up and running in a scenario where the demand for your services and competitive environment remain constant, maybe just the good old building fire is the best way to go.

I know these types of exercises are less fun to plan and conduct, but the small, independent business interruption event is still the most likely scenario to occur and, if you are not in position to efficiently and effectively respond to that, maybe you can hold off an simulating the end of the world until you are.