BlackswanHunting the Black Swans in Your Continuity Program

This is Vol. II, No. 2 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 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:

Volume I

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
Quarry 8: Lessons Learned
Quarry 9: New Year's Resolutions
Quarry 10: 10 Steps to Building a Black Swan-free Business Continuity Management Program
Quarry 11: New Year's Resolutions
Quarry 12: Developing "Black Swan Sighting" Skills: Warm-up Exercises

Volume II

Quarry 1: The Centrality of Power: Seeing the Connections

Volume II: Quarry 2: Power Outages: Isolation Effects

We did more warm-up exercises last month by looking at the central dependence of modern civilization on the availability of electrical power. We continue today with exploration of some of the effects on human civilization and culture that could result from a prolonged central electricity outage.

Let's start with a day in the life of one person….without electricity. It is now the 25th day without municipal power.

Getting up in the morning. You will be using a manual alarm clock to wake up. No power means no smart phone and no clock radio. You may have a battery-powered satellite alarm clock. Or a traditional wind-up, ticking alarm clock.

You will be using battery-powered lighting or candles if it is still dark outside…. Oh and you will be hot if it's summer (no air conditioning or even fans) and cold if it's winter….no central heating, and no heat at all unless you have fuel and a fireplace to burn it in. Or a heater that runs on propane from your home supply. (Note: Homes that are "off-the-grid" and run on independent propane tanks will have appropriately customized appliances and heating/cooling, and will see lifestyle changes in their homes only when the propane supply runs out and cannot be replaced.)

√ APPLY this to your own life and see what your personal situation will be.

Checking the weather and news. Batteries rule….for television, computers, and radios. No batteries available? Forgot to stock up? No batteries available within your community because of limited supply as well as less frequent deliveries? Try "wind-up", self-powered radio.
No extra battery packs charged for computers? Probably you will be able to get them eventually. But how will you re-charge them? After some time, probably charging stations will be available closer to where you live. But if you are outside of a population center? Probably not. In this scenario, there are such charging centers in a few central locations.

√ APPLY this to your own life and see what your personal situation will be.

Will the internet be operational? Certainly it will be operational outside of the affected area. But unless you have an independently-powered (diesel generator) earth station to which you can connect your computer, it is not likely that the ground or mobile network will be able to connect you. Local backup batteries will have long since died on mobile towers, and may or may not be replaced frequently by your telecomm provider.

√ APPLY this to your own life and see what your personal situation will be.

Personal Sanitation and Hygiene
The plumbing system that automatically refills your toilet tank to replace water used for flushing also uses electricity. You will need to refill your tank manually if you want flushing of waste to occur. Where will you be keeping your water supply? Even if you filled your bathtub before the event occurred that disrupted the power, that water will be long gone after 25 days.

Shower? Not. You will not have hot water coming from your water heating system, because this runs on electricity. In fact, you will not have water coming from your plumbing system if you are above ground level. And perhaps not even there if pressure has been lost in the municipal water distribution system. So you will need to heat water some other way if you want warm water for bathing. If you have a gas stove, you will probably be able to light the burners manually to cook your food and heat water (but only if gas continues to be distributed). Chances are that you will be using this small amount of warm water to clean your body in a way that minimizes the amount of water used. BUT only if you have access to water, which may not be the case….

Hairstyling? Battery-operated hair dryers only …. And these are not likely to be in wide supply until several months after the power outage occurs.

√ APPLY this to your own life and see what your personal situation will be.

You may want to save some of that hot water that you heated on the stove for coffee. Remember that you will need to use a non-electric technique, such as coffee press, or a stovetop device, to brew your coffee. You wanted cream in that coffee? Probably this will not be possible since you will not have refrigeration. So you will use either canned milk, or some kind of powdered milk or milk product that does not need refrigeration. What will you be eating? Think about foods that do not require refrigeration or much water or other liquids. Oatmeal might work if you like that…. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is another possibility. You could cook eggs but you cannot refrigerate them, so you will need to eat them soon after purchasing them. But if your stove/oven is electric, you will have no way to cook or heat anything.

√ APPLY this to your own life and see what your personal situation will be.

Getting Dressed
Now you need to get dressed to go to work. You do not have many clean clothes because the washing machines and dryers are not working – they use electricity of course. You may have to clean your clothes manually. And they will likely be wrinkled ---clothes irons and steamers use electricity too. Or does your local laundry service have a diesel generator? Aren't you glad you bought all of those no-iron shirts now? But after 25 days, do you have any clean shirts left? Be careful how you select your socks – navy, black, and dark brown are hard to identify in the light of candles or flashlights. You do not forget your backpack. And you are wearing comfortable shoes.

√ APPLY this to your own life and see what your personal situation will be.

Getting out the Door and to Work
You live in an 8th floor apartment in a 20-story building in a large city. You take the stairs – of course the elevators are not working. You are getting to know your neighbors on the now-crowded stairs. You go down to the basement to say hello to the super and pick up your bicycle. (You did remember to take your bike helmet and your pants clip.) You are lucky to have your bike, even though it takes you about 45 minutes to arrive at your work location. Your neighbors who are taking mass transit have to deal with very crowded conditions and infrequent service. The roads are nearly always gridlocked, despite the difficulty in getting gasoline, even though the government has recently instituted an odd-even system for the purchase of gasoline. Many gas stations remain closed: some simply cannot pump the fuel that they have; others have not received fuel deliveries.

√ APPLY this to your own life and see what your personal situation will be.

At the Workplace

You are one of the lucky ones; your building has a diesel generator, and for the moment, there is sufficient fuel to run it to support all of the needs of your building. (But be careful: if the building loses water pressure and can no longer provide sanitary facilities, you may be forced by municipal public safety laws to evacuate the building of all but essential staff.)

You work on the 12th floor, and you walk up the stairs to get there. In order to conserve fuel, only disabled persons or senior executives are allowed to take the single working elevator for this 30-story building. You have checked in your bike in with the Bike Detail from Building Security in the building lobby; many who work in this building are now taking their bicycles to the office. This means that you do not need to carry your bicycle up to the 12th floor.

Your workplace is not quite normal. Usually the first thing that you do is to log in to your computer and connect with your firm's main data center. Today your company's dedicated lines from this building to your main data center are operating sporadically. Your main website is down, as is the ISP that hosts it. You have no external internet capability. Email is not working; hotmail functions are not working. The telephone system is working but is sluggish due to the usual extraordinary volumes. But there is coffee and refrigeration and therefore sometimes fresh dairy products. The company cafeteria makes breakfast for you. (and lunch, and you will pick up a take-out dinner and some bottled water before you leave – that's why you needed to bring the backpack.) You discuss issues with your colleagues. It is far from business as usual. A major cultural change.

√APPLY this to your own life and see what your personal situation will be.

What other actions could the company take to support its employees in a situation like this? There are a great many, and we'll talk about those next month.

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 kathleenalucey@gmail.com.