BlackswanHunting the Black Swans in Your Continuity Program

This is Vol. II, No. 3 in the DRG ongoing series regarding hunting and mastery of the black swans in your continuity program.

"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
Quarry 2: Power Outages: Isolation Effects

Volume II: Quarry 3: Power Outages: How Employers Can /Should Get Involved

Last month we looked at the central dependence of modern civilization (and all of us) on the availability of electrical power. We continue today with an exploration of some of the tactics that employers can use to support their staff and their families. Just a reminder: Work is a higher (less important) need in Maslow's Hierarchy, and personal and family needs are much lower (more important). So it goes to reason that if you want to keep your staff working, you will need to help them address their more important needs during a longer-term power outage. So today we will be talking about all the things that employers can do to meet the family and personal needs of their employees so that they can then be available to work. Perhaps so that they have specific motivations to come to work. The following will give you a very small idea of a few of the actions that might be considered.

Picking up from last month: It is now the 25th day without municipal power. In this scenario, the workplace will have heat, power, as well as batteries, battery-chargers, and other supplies. Remember, this is primarily an exercise in imagination, so let yours out of the box!

Getting up in the morning, sleeping. Or at any specific time during the day/night. Employees will need batteries to keep their manual alarm clocks working. They may also need alarm clocks. You can provide both kinds of batteries – maybe some rechargeable ones that employees can recharge in the workplace. And perhaps some traditional batteries as well. This is simply a matter of keeping batteries and alarm clocks available in close storage and rotating/recharging batteries as needed.

Blankets and perhaps sleeping bags in the winter so that employees and their families can stay warm without heat. It's hard to wake up with an alarm clock if you never got to sleep because you were so worried about your children freezing.

√ APPLY the above to your organization and play out the situation.

Checking the weather and news. Batteries rule….for television, computers, phones, and radios. Everyone will need batteries. 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. These radios are reasonably priced and could easily be distributed by the organization to critical staff ahead of any event.

No extra battery packs for computers? The organization can maintain a stock of extras that are kept charged. But how will you re-charge them? Large organizations should consider purchasing (and storing) charging stations to be deployed at key organization locations. Such stations could be used for smart phones and other devices that are so necessary to our lives.

√ APPLY the above to your organization and play out the situation.

The Internet? Will the internet be working? Certainly it will be operational outside of the affected area. If you have an earth station at your organization's location that is independently-powered (diesel generator), ans connected to a local network which can drive a network that connects you through to a satellite, you can connect your computer to the internet if this has been set up correctly. If you do not have this, 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. Your organization may want to consider the purchase and installation of an earth station. Your organization may want to consider such a strategy not only for its own needs, but also to allow its employees to contact their families outside of the affected area via the internet.

√ APPLY the above to your organization and play out the situation.

Personal Sanitation and Hygiene. Without water, your employees will have no sanitation. Water for other purposes within their homes, such as cooking, will be severely limited. This means not only no capability to flush a toilet or take a shower, but also no hot water for other purposes.

How will your employees get their water supply to where they live
Plastic bags can be considered for basic sanitation. And your organization might serve as a collection point for such waste. Every organization should consider acting as a distribution point for drinking water for your employees and their families.

Organizations may wish to consider the provision of shower facilities in all locations to be used not just after working out in the gum, but also for such emergencies as lengthy power outages.

√ APPLY the above to your organization and play out the situation.

Breakfast. Consider providing breakfast as well as other meals at the workplace. If there are cafeteria facilities, they can run around the clock. Dedicated staff will need to find food sources and set up delivery schedules. This can work even if cafeteria facilities are not available at every workplace location. Remember that you will need electric stoves and other equipment; municipal gas delivery service may be disrupted.

√ APPLY the above to your organization and play out the situation.

Laundry. Without electricity, it will be difficult to keep clothes clean. And even if they are clean, they will be wrinkled. Organizations may wish to consider serving as a drop point for sending laundry outside of the affected zone. If there are any laundry facilities in the building, they could of course be made available. But remember that the organization may be operating with trucked-in water because the municipal supply may not be operational.

√ APPLY theabove to your organization and play out the situation.

Many doctors' offices will be closed in a prolonged power outage; it is likely that ER facilities in hospitals will be extraordinarily busy. If you take medications, you already know that you should keep an extra month or two of prescription meds. But what if an employee or someone in that employee's family falls ill? If your organization has a large building or campus environment, you may want to create an internal medical clinic, staffed 24/7 to take care of your people and their families.

√ APPLY the above to your organization and play out the situation.

This is an extremely complicated scenario for more than just a few days. Nonetheless, your organization may want to consider it carefully. It may protect your people better than any other solution if you have a fully equipped location or campus. Certainly if you produce your own electricity in a co-generation facility on your campus, you should consider allowing employees and their families to shelter on your campus. This scenario is not without significant liabilities, especially if the electrical outage persists for a long time (more than a week).

√ APPLY the above to your organization and play out the situation.

What other actions could the company take to support its employees in a situation like this? In most cases, the answer is "It all depends." Depends on your organization's specific capabilities at its facilities, on the length of the outage, on the area impacted by the outage (and the number of affected people), on the capability of the affected area to be self-sustaining, and on the time of year and weather, to cite just a few.

But once your imagination is engaged, you should be able to work through a variety of possibilities where your organization can help its employees and their families. But you first must believe that something like this could happen in order to engage your imagination. And that is the biggest obstacle to successful emergency planning. It is just precisely those unexpected and difficult scenarios (the black swans) that we are asking you to think about. We never said it would be easy!

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.