BlackswanHunting the Black Swans in Your Continuity Program

This is the seventh in the DRG ongoing series regarding hunting and mastery of the black swans in your continuity program. Look for it on the first Wednesday of each month.

“Black Swans” in your Continuity Program are those events that remain outside the range of your normal expectations, and may well produce a significant negative impact when they occur. For reasons of budget, culture, or simple lack of awareness, we just do not see or deal with these potentially devastating exposures in our enterprise continuity capability. This series discusses some of the most common of these “black swans” in business continuity programs, those that are really staring us in the face and screaming for attention.

Already published:
Quarry 1: Employee Availability for Response Activities.
Quarry 2: The Level of Individual Employee Commitment to BCM
Quarry 3: Exercising Your Plans
Quarry 4: Exercising Your Plans: Objectives and Annual Programs
Quarry 5: Exercising Your Plans: Business Unit Continuity Plans
Quarry 6: Exercising Your Plans: Technology Recovery Plans

Quarry 7: Exercising Your Plans: Logistics, Communications, and Support Plans

Monday, October 29, 5 p.m.
As I write this today in New York City, the barometric pressure at the eye of Hurricane Sandy is 940 millibars….extraordinarily low…. as it aims due West for New Jersey. The local temperature in New York City has moved UP from 58 to 63 degrees in the past hour. This storm, about to combine with a winter Nor'easter, is a major threat to 50 million Americans and many thousands of small and large businesses. An astronomical high tide is approaching now, and many people who saw what happened with Hurricane Irene last year are beginning to see the folly of their failure to leave their homes in mandatory evacuation zones. It is a concurrence of events that is a historic first.

So what is happening to your business and to your people if you live in an area affected by Mega Storm Sandy? You are probably finding out, to your dismay, that the most serious weaknesses in your recovery planning efforts are probably NOT in your technology recovery plans or in your business unit recovery plans. If you are like most organizations, your weakest point is probably your incident management / emergency management, logistics, and support teams. And within this, you have made certain baseline assumptions, the most common of which is that telecommunications services are working.

Tuesday, October 30, 10 a.m.
You may now be experiencing the painful discovery that AT&T took a major hit to its cell towers in New York and New Jersey as a result of Mega Storm Sandy. Even if you have a very well-structured set of teams and emergency messages coded on an automated notification system, if your employees in NY and NJ use AT&T mobile services, you may not be able to reach them. Even if they have power, they will not be getting your message telling them that you need to activate their recovery teams. If you are using an automated notification system, you may reach them via email (If they remembered to take their laptops home and are able to access their email) before the cell message gets through. The moral of the story is this: do not set yourself up for a situation where your primary communication system becomes a Single Point of Failure (SPoF). You do this through multiple overlapping alternative strategies such as the following: a toll-free number that all employees may call with for basic information, an email address where they may report their status, another toll-free number where they can find out if their recovery teams have been activated.

This month's article gives you a very brief introduction to the subject of these "other" teams that are so very essential to the achievement of a successful recovery. Consider the following diagram.

Incident Management Diagram
Click to view and download the PDF

With the exception of the lower left corner – Business Recovery and Technology Recovery – all of these teams fall into the classification we are discussing today: logistics, communication, and support. Consider the following possible teams:

    Interruption Management
  • Interruption Management Team, also called Incident Management or Executive Management: Operating Management Staff (Recommend specific actions to Executive Oversight Team)
  • Executive Oversight (in a small organization this is part of the Interruption Management Team): Senior Executive Staff (Authorize funding for recommended actions and approve all external communications)
  • Command Center Support Team also called Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Support: Administrative Support to the above teams as well as often the BCC, which may be co-located.
  • Media Relations: may be internal or external staff: Responsible for media liaison, public relations, and social media use and control. Responsible for designing all external communications.
  • Business Continuity Coordination: Leader is the Manager of the Business Continuity Program, supplemented by BCM Program staff in a large organization, and by audit department or other non-essential staff members in a smaller organization: Communications to/from the other teams and the interruption management teams. Responsible for all internal communications.
    Emergency Logistics
  • Damage Assessment: preliminary assessors; may be part of the BCC Team
  • Employee Support: special services coordinated by Human Resources
  • Emergency Funding: Finance or Accounting
  • Others customized to the organization

Site Repair and Restoration
These teams are made up of a variety of support staff, including the following: Real Estate, Facilities, Physical Security, IT, representatives of key production functions located in the affected premises. Their charge is to design and execute the "return to normal" operation. Because of the complexity of their tasks, they must begin work almost immediately after the premises are assessed for damages.
Exercising These Plans
Many organizations not only do not exercise these plans in a coherent fashion, they often have not even developed them. Strange as it seems, most organizations seem to think that they can design these structures when and if an interruption occurs. Or perhaps their absence signals an unconscious belief that there will never be a need for any of these plans. What we have here is the very definition of a black swan. Now is a good time to flush out and slay these extremely powerful black swans.
Just a reminder: last month we talked about APS – Auxiliary Power Systems (usually diesel generators) and how these should be exercised. In view of the number of generators that failed in the floods associated with Mega Storm Sandy because they were in below grade locations, it behooves us to consider putting these devices on roofs or certainly above grade if there is any possibility of floods in the area – even if such floods have not occurred in the memory of those living in the area. One more black swan made visible and therefore made vulnerable to clear thinking!

If you are unfamiliar with this kind of logistics planning, you can get more information from the ICS (Incident Command System) course that is available at no cost from the FEMA website: http://training.fema.gov/IS/searchIS.asp?keywords=ICS&Submit=Search ICS is the management system that is used by FEMA and most state emergency management organizations to organize the initial response to a disaster.

The initial version of any of these plans should be considered a very rough draft; they can be refined only through scenario-based tabletop exercises that verify both their completeness and effectiveness. Each should undergo separate unit testing prior to participating in a broader scenario that requires multiple teams. It is difficult to overstate the importance of exercising for improving both completeness and correctness of these plans. They must work together as a smooth, integrated logistical support operation. One of the most effective ways to verify that this is working correctly is to ensure that you have "interlock" among the various plans: if one team needs to report the status of an item to another team, that other team needs to expect that status from the initiating team and in the form and at the time that is referenced in both team plans. Effectively, this creates a process that is made up of interlocking moving parts. And this is what you need when time is short and stress is high.

Exercising is equally beneficial for the team members. Exercising together helps participants to develop broad-based communications skills, helps them to learn to work together in challenging circumstances, and develops trust in each other. They will also develop the group and individual confidence that comes from successfully dealing with difficult logistics scenarios. In any real event, they will need that confidence to handle all of the interruption variables that cannot be rehearsed because they cannot always be clearly imagined. Exercising is the most effective tool to develop the comprehensive skill sets that allow these complex logistics processes to proceed smoothly and calmly during the white-hot pressure of an interruption. Or would you rather count on figuring out who does what at the height of a major incident?

About the Author:
Kathleen Lucey, FBCI, is President of Montague Risk Management, a business continuity consulting firm founded in 1996. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the BCI, and the founding President of the BCI USA Chapter. IBM chose her as the first winner of its Business Continuity Practitioner of the Year Award in 1998. She speaks and publishes widely in both North America and Europe. Kathleen may be reached via email at kathleenalucey@gmail.com.