Imagine you’re planning an annual event. Everything has been ordered and confirmed. The event is only a few days away. Then, Hurricane Matthew hits and your supplier can’t deliver as various components of your order were in a building that now has six feet of water in it. Or you are a supplier and I-95 is shut down in key areas forcing traffic into long detours thereby causing your perishables that were ordered to arrive too late. Or perhaps a two-week-long riot (Baltimore 2015) prevents your supplier from meeting a key deadline. Or something as simple as a power outage that lasts for more than eight hours forces the venue to close just a few hours before the event.
A planner considers the “what if” as a normal part of business. When organizing an outdoor event, a tent or indoor venue should be ordered or made available just in case bad weather occurs. But, how many planners have thought to consider a “rain event” that dumps almost two feet of water in 24 hours, such as flooding in Louisiana in August 2016 or Hurricane Matthew, which left most of the community of Lumberton, N.C., flooded with six feet of water in some areas. Picture the venue that has been booked for over a year that is now being used as shelter for over 400 people and a variety of animals due to a 5,000-year flood (Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., August 2016). Imagine if you were one of those in the shelter because both your home and business were flooded? How easily or quickly could you recover?
The severity, magnitude and frequency of natural disasters, civil disturbances and political turmoil have seen an increase over the past few years. What originally appears to be a small-scale disaster, can take weeks, months or sometimes years from which to recover. To make matters worse, due to today’s reliance on just-in-time delivery, many suppliers do not keep large amount of supplies of key components on hand.
What can be done about it? We can’t stop nature or riots from happening. All we can do is become better prepared and in doing so, allow us to recover quicker and easier.
The first step to becoming prepared is developing continuity plans.
Continuity plans are plans that consider risk and threats then develop strategies and procedures that, while protecting personnel and assets, a company can either continue functioning during a disaster or can quickly return to normal operations after.
A first step is to consider what processes and/or tasks on a daily (e.g., checking email, develop invoices, deposit payments), weekly (e.g., pay bills, pay salaries), monthly (e.g., account reviews) and yearly basis. (e.g., taxes). They can then be divided into tasks that must be done and tasks that should be done when time permits.
- What information is needed?
- Where does that information come from?
- What files are needed to complete them?
Then consider what is done with it when a person is done with it (i.e., make or follow-up on a decision; write a document; hand the completed task to someone else; etc.). Does one person complete the function or is it handed off to someone else to complete? If so, what do then need to complete the task?
You may need to consider things such as needing additional direction, researching additional information or requiring specialized equipment.
What if a vital function is completed by one specific person and that person is not available for whatever reason? A component of the continuity plan could be writing procedures for key function(s) and having them available if needed.
Next, consider the risk and threats.
If this or that happens, what would you do? It would be impossible to come up with plans for all risk/threats.
Instead, develop steps that everyone would follow when something occurs.
- Discuss what events triggers each of the various steps.
- Practice a variety of scenarios with staff over lunch.
- Brainstorm inventive ways to deal with issues.
- Make sure everyone knows the steps and what part they play in each step.
We will always fall back to the steps we have practiced when something out of the ordinary occurs.
Identify and develop long term relationships with suppliers in a variety of geographical locations so that if something were to happen, you have a backup supplier.
Finally, ensure that all computers are backed-up off site. (Having a backup that sits in the office desk will not do any good if the office is destroyed.) Take photos of all equipment and their serial numbers as well as their location in the office which are kept with insurance information offsite. If something were to occur, having this type of documentation will make completing insurance claims easier.
We cannot prevent things from happening, but with a little preplanning, we can be better prepared for when things do occur and recover quicker.