The events in the first half of this year have taught us that, despite their best forecast and planning efforts, business leaders must be prepared to respond to critical events that threaten their business objectives and the continuity of their goods and services. Critical events are not limited to significantly high impact events such as a fully developed natural disaster, but can involve the initial phases of a simple incident or operational disruption.
Neither are critical events confined to the domains of natural hazards or physical safety and security threats. Cyberattacks, data breach incidents, telecom outages and severe weather events were some of the top risks identified when business leaders and resilience practitioners were asked to put forth a potential list of threats for the current year 2020, according to the Business Continuity Institute’s (BCI) annual horizon scanning report. However, we now know that since then, “grey swan” scenarios (such as the current COVID-19 pandemic) which impact businesses both small and large, can still happen despite our best efforts to prepare for them.
Understanding the impact that even ‘everyday’ critical events can have on organizations is crucial. To give just one example, within the United States alone, the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) reported that fire departments responded to an estimated 1.31 million fires in 2018, with 3,665 civilian fire fatalities and 15,200 civilian fire injuries. The direct property loss was estimated to be USD 25.6 billion. On average, there was a civilian fire death every 2 hours and 34 minutes, and a fire injury every 25 minutes.
Imagine a scenario such as a conventional fire in an office building (regardless of whether you are the owner of the building, or one of the office tenants in the building). If the building fire alarm goes off and an evacuation announcement is made, one would assume that everyone should safely make it out of the building on their own, even if no fire-preparedness plan is made in advance. Depending on the extent of the fire or damage, business owners would later be able to notify their stakeholders and revise their service and delivery schedules through calls or emails.
Now, all of this is based on a “best case” scenario. Complications can arise if you find that some of your team members are unaccounted for during the evacuation, or if the fire damage is so extensive that it is difficult to estimate how soon anyone can (or will ever) be able to return to the office. What if vital client paper records are destroyed that have not been digitized? What instructions do you give your staff in this case, and what information do you think you’ll immediately need to communicate with your partner vendors and clients? Do you have a business continuity plan in place, and if so, how will it be communicated? If the fire damage destroys computers or servers, do you keep an offsite or cloud backup of company data, and if so, how long will it take to replace equipment and reimage employee-owned devices?
Preparing for Critical Events Before They Happen
To better manage a critical event, business leaders need to focus on preparedness efforts. These include the development and communication of relevant plans and policies, conducting risk assessments, and the performance of tests and exercises to ensure staff and identified stakeholders are aware of the initial response procedures and follow-up recovery measures. Without such a plan, should there come a day that an actual incident occurs, business owners can only cross their fingers and hope that everyone knows their respective roles and are level-headed enough to execute them under pressure. Like it or not, this is the reality when critical events materialize.
Rather than hoping for the best outcome and putting the responsibility all on individual team members, a better alternative would be the deployment of a robust critical event management platform that takes the assumption and guesswork out of the equation.
Such a platform should:
- Effectively communicate with targeted stakeholders on the specific steps to execute during a critical event occurrence when chaos is all around;
- Expeditiously account for all staff/ contractors and take the guesswork out of who is safe (and who is not, for subsequent follow up by the emergency services);
- Deliver specific recovery of operations instructions, without having to assume that team members will be executing them perfectly during times of stress;
- Be agile enough to accommodate changes based on on-site assessment and decisions in a way that that product and service deliverable errors are minimized, as a result of accurate communication of information, recovery status and providing assurance to concerned stakeholders.
Communicating effectively during critical events can indirectly provide a competitive edge to business leaders and their organizations.
Agility in the New Normal
The “new normal” of the COVID-19 era has wrought many changes both large and small on society. In business, a new complex/hybrid operating environment is steadily evolving, where work-from-home is embraced and further remote infrastructure now needs to be put in place to strengthen and secure it. Planning for (and responding with) agility is therefore crucial for organizations to succeed in this brave new operating environment, particularly when we consider the following details (from BCI’s pandemic report):
- 49 percent of respondents had not considered the effect of a global lockdown;
- 54 percent indicated that their organizations will not be going back to the old business model, with 21 percent still unsure what model to adopt;
- 58.6 percent expect better communication processes post-pandemic; and,
- 81 percent expect an increased use in remote working, with 65 percent running more events in a virtual environment.
Whether organizations can thrive in the new normal will depend on how business leaders embrace and adapt to the changing business landscape and evolving operational risks. Managing critical events will be a necessary requirement in maintaining a competitive edge.
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 Ben Evarts. “Fire Loss in the United States during 2018”. NFPA (October 2019)