Please note that this is a page from a previous version of Continuity Central and is no longer being updated.

To see the latest business continuity news, jobs and information click here.

Business continuity information

Business continuity: certification and experience in the field

By Scott Sanderson

Before becoming a business continuity professional I was a Jr. High and High School teacher for 12 years. After five years of college study, student teaching and passing the exams I was given a Teaching Certificate. I also took another year and a half to complete a Master’s Degree which included a Practical Thesis and Board Review and Defense of the thesis. However, I knew only a fraction of what it really would take to be a quality teacher in the classroom. Until my first year of actual teaching, I didn’t fully understand the difficulty of getting students to behave, to get them to learn the subject matter and the grind that six classes a day over nine months would have on me.

In the profession of business continuity planning we have a certification program designed to provide employers and peers some semblance of professional review of qualifications. With that certificate we declare that we know our subject matter and as we get higher certifications, experience in the planning process. In planning we follow guidelines, rules and even some requirements - all with an express purpose of having our company or a company ready for disasters or severe interruptions. Many planners never see a significant disaster at their location(s). Hence, the need for on-site, practical experiences (the classroom so to speak).

How we generally determine our readiness without a disaster is through table top simulations or exercises. If we are lucky we get a more involved and more realistic exercises. But, no matter how you slice and dice the results they are not the real thing. Some holes are found but not all. Managing or directing a response and a recovery is very difficult the first time and generally every time in many ways.

Experience is generally more valuable than having just a certification. Experience in the field is even more valuable. It is a schooling that happens live. There are variables such as available personnel, resources, funding and conditions that change with each disaster. Just getting decision makers to make decisions can be very difficult. Challenges are sometimes insurmountable but with the right actions they are worked through in a steady and stable process using the plan structure. Beware though of egos, turf grabbers, and know-it-all types of people who may be in upper management or just volunteers from the company. They will be like the challenging students in your first classroom who want to see how you will react. At first, you won’t know exactly how you would react in many cases and that makes my main point. Until you have gone through disasters/severe incidents in real life you are only partially experienced. Some things in theory work and some don’t. Knowing the difference is the key to your success when a disaster/interruption hits.

I worked for FEMA/SBA disaster assistance for ten years and another 12 years in taking several Fortune 500 companies from zero to robust BCP programs responding to hurricanes, floods, fires, severe storms etc. We gained in market share each time because we do things right and for the right reason. My life with FEMA/SBA was one large disaster after another. That experience opened my eyes to how poorly companies prepare and how often companies cannot enact their plans. They have formal plans from part-time/full time planners or consultants who never see the light of day so to speak. Many companies cannot, in real life, enact their plan as they envisioned. It is generally the plan approach (assumptions) and key elements that miss the mark. A plan can look really good on paper but in real life can perform extremely poorly. The difference is in who is doing the planning. It is experience in the field, knowing how things really work, that adds the value to a good plan.

Areas that you will learn so much more about in a large disaster are:

1. Emergency communication: what works and what doesn’t – quality options;

2. Damage assessment facilities: gathering quality information in a timely manner

a. Who does it – how do they do it (there will be obstacles to solve you can’t predict)

b. General area infrastructure is valuable – affecting employees, transportation etc.

i. You might have to do something very inventive to solve problems;

3. Connections to others: local and state entities – EMS, police, sheriff, other companies etc. – no one should work in a vacuum in a disaster. You can have this in your plan but there is an art to doing this before, during and after;

4. Resources you have at your fingertips: find out ASAP so you can make decisions;

5. Resources you need to acquire: find them ASAP as the competition for them only gets more heated and difficult. This is a tall task but one that must be done quickly and expertly. There are nuances to acquiring resources, maintaining resources and moving resources around.

a. What if there is no gas available to anyone in the disaster zone but you want your employees to show up to work each day? This they can’t do after a couple of days as many don’t have full tanks of gas. Can you solve it?

6. Assigned tasks: wow, this really gets interesting in a disaster!

a. You want employees that can do the task, follow through and accomplish it but … You might not have who you want to have. What do you do?

b. Accountability – what if they can’t do it?

7. Status updates: know what goes on all the time or you will be lost/confused/disorganized;

8. Stress: you will have it – scan you handle it?

9. Your plan says do this and that but your gut says do something different – so…

10. What does it take, in reality, to open your doors after a disaster? How will you know until you do it once or twice?

I tell everyone that serving our customers, no matter who they are, is the most important thing to focus on. You have a golden opportunity to gain market share during a disaster. However, most likely you will lose market share because you don’t have the experience to know what works with the customers who are flustered, panic stricken and overly demanding. They don’t want to hear that you can’t open, or ship, or provide services. There are things you can do – I have done them. If you are new to real life solutions, often by the time you provide, a competitor has already figured it out. That really hurts – so why not beat them? Well, it takes experience in being able to do that.

Nothing, nothing, in our profession replaces hands on experience inside of a disaster. I have taken inexperienced and experienced planners out to hurricanes, floods, fires, tornados and the like and – their eyes become huge. The experience(s) changes everything. What works and what doesn’t work in the heat of the battle is huge. What actually works in reality would surprise most people in the field because they won’t think of it beforehand. It won’t be in the plan and therefore not done soon enough.

Getting real life experience is a challenge for many. But, if your company would allow you to go to the disaster zone and work alongside another company or professional either private or public, you would gain more in a few weeks than most of your years of other experience.

Scott Sanderson is a Sr. Manager of Business Continuity Planning and Response.

•Date: 5th March 2013 • US/World •Type: Article • Topic: BC general

Business Continuity Newsletter Sign up for Continuity Briefing, our weekly roundup of business continuity news. For news as it happens, subscribe to Continuity Central on Twitter.

How to advertise How to advertise on Continuity Central.

To submit news stories to Continuity Central, e-mail the editor.

Want an RSS newsfeed for your website? Click here