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Trends in business continuity plan testing and exercising

Jim Preen of Crisis Solutions takes a look at some emerging trends in the area of business continuity plan testing.

The most notable change in the crisis management environment is the revolution in instant multi-media communications channels and the resultant need for firms to be able to demonstrate that they are both on top of the problem and can communicate effectively in a way that takes account of the public and stakeholder ‘mood’. As a result, savvy organizations are looking at new ways and methods to scrutinize, test and validate their business continuity plans.

General trends

Trend 1: Consistency
Creating and sustaining international consistency in incident management planning has been a noted theme for organizations engaged in merger and acquisition activity or business consolidation, particularly where companies have made changes to outsourcing or have off-shored back office activities.

Trend 2: New media
Companies have become acutely aware of the power of social media whether it be Twitter, Facebook or the rise of the citizen journalist. Exercises from a simple desktop to a full-scale crisis simulation now almost routinely look at the company’s ability to understand and engage with the brave new world of social media.

Trend 3: Integration
Crisis Solutions has noted an increase in demand for exercises to validate the effectiveness of the coordination between incident management and corporate communications teams.

Scenario themes

The threats, hazards and accident scenarios that organizations face evolve, and with this change comes the need to ensure that plans reflect reality. So, while the ‘traditional’ scenarios of terrorism, technology failure, disease and severe weather have their place and continue to be used, other themes have emerged:

Theme 1: Regulatory activity
Following an increase in activity by regulatory and law enforcement agencies focusing on companies which are alleged to be in breach of their obligations, there has been an increase in the number of organizations wanting to test their plans for both ensuring that they are able to undertake their legal obligations in support of such an investigation and how to ensure that communications are properly managed in a ‘dawn raid’ scenario.

Theme 2: Catastrophic events
With protests sweeping through the Middle East and extreme weather conditions across the globe, international companies now regularly ask for ‘catastrophic event’ scenarios to be deployed. For exercise purposes a catastrophic event has been broadly defined as meaning ‘an event which has, or threatens to, overwhelm the capacity of national authorities to manage effectively and/or in which societal functions have ceased, or may cease, to operate normally’.

Recent desktop exercises conducted by Crisis Solutions have involved a major earthquake in Asia, regional conflict in the Gulf, and significant civil unrest in an important West African country.

Theme 3: Cyberspace
Given the recent upsurge in cyber attacks faced by companies, organizations and even countries, it’s hardly surprising that companies dependent on technology want to test their resilience. For example one recent simulation probed the business impacts, technology responses and communications requirements when facing a zero-day virus, which then escalated to a wider cyber attack on the financial sector encompassing DDoS attacks on public-facing websites and ‘worms’ impacting application availability.

Exercise format trends

Dennis Flynn, Crisis Solutions CEO, says: “I’ve noted three over-riding developments in the recent delivery of exercises. First, exercises now often run over several days with participants ‘playing’ for sequenced periods each day, thereby allowing a more realistic incident management timeframe yet minimising the impact on day-to-day business operations. The second allows for corporate communications teams (sometimes working with external PR agency support) to rehearse the implementation of plans – specifically in the use of social media. Finally there is a growing recognition that scenario analysis and testing is a smart way to consider a wider range of operational risks than has previously been the case. If we take all these developments together I think it’s fair to say that there is a growing maturity in the plan testing arena.”


•Date: 15th Feb 2011 • Region: UK/World •Type: Article •Topic: BC testing

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