Hunting the Black Swans in Your Continuity Program
This is the twelfth 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, except this month it appears on April 17th!.
Quarry 12: Developing "Black Swan Sighting" Skills: Warm-up Exercises
Like many other skills, "seeing" black swans takes practice and practice more practice. Exercising your brain to develop familiar and comfortable analytical paths is what will get you there. And so here begins a series of exercises to increase your agility and your perception of ALL of those areas where a link in the chain can break. Just to keep you (and me) on our toes, each of these columns will also identify how a particular black swan (a broken link in a chain) may be connected to a link in two other chains, thus affecting the overall fabric of the inter-connected chains that make up our world.
Let's start with a few basics just to stretch and warm up our mental muscles. We will look at two of the most fundamental requirements to life: AIR and WATER. (Remember that people are essential to most business operations…..)
First, let's take AIR. Start with just one of its uses.
Now let's look narrowly at what changes can create breaks in just the chain of human respiration:
I am certain that you can think of many others, some of which are just variants of the above, such as air enriched with a higher percentage of oxygen for those with breathing difficulties, or filtered air to keep critical manufacturing and other environments sterile. You could probably spend a week tracing just the obvious links to other chains.
It is clear that the absence of breathable air with the "correct" mix of gases, at an acceptable level of movement speed and without significant contamination, is necessary to sustain human life. And all animal life. But oxygen is also necessary for a large number of other industrial processes such as welding, which requires combustion. Combustion cannot occur without oxygen. Internal combustion engines (automobiles, trucks, tractors, etc.) need oxygen.
A second-level corollary is that a by-product of the respiration of air by living beings is carbon dioxide, which is essential to plant life. The plants return the favor providing oxygen as a result of their respiration.
And so what other chains is AIR linked to? Here is just the very beginning of that list:
Continue with this list, and then work with each line item. It will quickly become obvious that any major disruption of AIR will lead to important and significant rifts in the interlocking dependency chains that make up our lives on this planet.
Air disturbances create a long series of cascading breaks in many connected chains. Many of these will be black swans. You could even call this a significant tear in the fabric of human and animal existence on the planet.
Let's look now at WATER1, also a critical component supporting human life and all life. First, we look at its uses. Water is an extremely important substance to human life, perhaps second only to oxygen. Here are some of its characteristics.
What are the characteristics of water?
It is easily contaminated by pathogens or other contaminants, such as particulates, other liquids, chemicals and many substances where it acts as a solvent.
90% of wastewater generated by humans still goes untreated into rivers and streams.
It is a non-renewable resource.
What are its uses?2
What are the changes to water that can threaten us?
The above impacts illustrate just the very tip of the dependence of human life on water. Because we depend so very much on it to keep our bodies alive, over 5 million people year are thought to die from drinking polluted water.
Your mental muscles should be warmed up now, and you should now have a better understanding of this analytical process. The above analyses on air and water were just the obvious and easy ones. In future columns this year we will be looking at other threatened resources and tracing their impacts on the larger fabric of our wired world. To truly understand black swans and how they can trigger the cascading interconnected risks in the surrounding fabric, you need to develop these mental muscles, which will lead you to far greater facility in understanding the interconnections between the failure of one link in one chain on the fabric of our wired world. THEN you will have the tools you need to see and understand black swans.
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 BCI Global Membership Council, past member of the Board 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.