Business continuity lessons from the current severe weather

Get free weekly news by e-mailIn common with large areas of the Northern Hemisphere, the UK has been experiencing a period of severe weather. Charlie Maclean-Bristol highlights some business continuity lessons that can be learnt from it.

The present severe weather is the worst in the last 30 years and has caused major disruption across the country. I have put together a few thought on the business continuity significance of the event, as a way of inviting discussion across the business continuity profession of what we have learned from this event.

1. The next incident is always the one you have not planned for

For the last few years when there has been snow it has lasted one-two days. Many people were unable to go into work but the event lasted for a very short time. The recent event has gone on for longer than a week and so is very unusual. Our plans have to be flexible as it is very unlikely we can predict the next incident.

2. Plan for utility failure

Those planning should note that there is the possibility of a shortage of gas or gas rationing especially for industry. Those carrying out business continuity should consider utility failures and consider that these could be longer than the usual power cut. Planning for prolonged utility (water, gas and electricity) failure should be carried out.

3. Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs)

After the event business continuity managers should review their RTOs. Often parts of the organization set their RTOs too short as a way of emphasising their importance within an organization. By reviewing RTOs during a real event, business continuity managers can see if the organization’s RTOs are realistic.

4. Single incident v widespread incidents

The severe weather has affected the whole country and so all organizations have been affected. When widespread incidents occur such as flooding or snow, customers and stakeholders are likely to be sympathetic to organizations which fail to deliver a service due to a natural event. Where there is an incident which only affects one organization (internal flood, technical failure, fire etc) customers and stakeholders are much less likely to be sympathetic. Incident management needs to take this into account and tailor the organization’s response accordingly.

5. Which plan covers the event?

Those planning usually plan for a number of scenarios, one of which is often denial of access to a building. Many have also recently been planning for pandemic and hence a lack of staff. If you have no prolonged severe weather plan which plan do you adopt to deal with this severe weather? For me this is a lack of staff event. It could equally be seen as a denial of access event, with staff able to work but they can’t get into their work premises. I think the lesson of this event is that you will never plan for the exact event which occurs and so you have to make best use of your existing plans and adapt them.

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Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol is a director of PlanB Consulting and head of training at Business Continuity Training.

Reader comment

I would agree with all that Charlie has had to say, but I also feel that there is a huge element missing here: Communication.  

More than ever this incident is about PEOPLE. People not able to get to work, People not able to get home again, People being able to work from home, YOUR People having accidents!

Business continuity is about keeping the business continuing.  We all understand that.  But it seems some business leaders forget that a business does not function by computers and buildings alone.  It needs people to operate and function and if you lose the hearts and minds of the people who work for you then you have to ask if they will be willing to support you when the going gets tough.

So in addition to the learning’s Charlie has highlighted, I would add;

  • Ensure your crisis management team process is well defined and understood.  Does the team know what their role is and what actions it might take?
  • What are your HR policies surrounding emergency leave? Parents have statutory rights, but what about people looking after elderly parents? Will you pay people who had to go home and couldn’t work? How about contractors?
  • What communications channels do you have open to you?  How will you get hold of your staff?  Do you have an ‘emergency staff helpline’?
  • How quickly can you get updates to staff? Do you have a website that staff can check on a regular basis?  Most schools have this facility… so why don’t you?

In addition to these points is the issue surrounding mis-information or information-vacuum. If you don’t give your employees information, they’ll find it out for themselves.  They’ll spend time worrying about transport networks, school closures, weather for the next 24hrs etc.  If you don’t manage how or where they get this information then be sure that they’ll get it from somewhere themselves.  So make comms to your business a priority so that they have up to date information, not just about your premises(!) but about the region in which they live.  Make it relevant, make it about their needs (balancing this with the needs of the business) and make it regular!

Finally, when the snow has melted (and we start to struggle with the floods that are next) take some time to thank people for their efforts over the recent days and weeks.  Recognise the effort people go to, not simply to get into you premises but also to continue to support you and your business remotely.  Simply saying ‘Thank you’ is sometimes all it takes to show that your business has recognised the efforts made and may mean the difference between someone, in the future making the effort or simply saying ‘why should I care?’

Gary Hibberd Risk & BCM Manager Author of “The Business Continuity Management Toolkit”

•Date: 13th Jan 2010 • Region: UK •Type: Article •Topic: BC general
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UPDATED 14TH JANUARY





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