Are you thinking about the little things?
As a continuity professional, and more often for the businesses that I support, there is a tendency to see the major hurricane or other large scale events as that which will disrupt a business. All too often, our employees want to be a part of a continuity exercise that sees a catastrophe; something big. However, sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest impact. That is why an “All Hazards” approach to testing is important.
Earlier this year, in one of our North American offices, an employee needed to a make a routine stop to the washroom. Instead of using their hand to flush, they decided to use their foot instead. Though the intent was to avoid germs on the hands, the person succeeded in dislodging the pipe behind the toilet starting a flood that would close the office for two days. Did the employees take their laptops home? Did they lose their personal belongings? Were they prepared for this to happen? Nobody could predict that this would happen, it’s not like our favorite meteorologist was predicting a flood for days in advance.
On another occasion the tenant space above one of our largest offices saw a small fire turn into 5,000 gallons of water pouring from our overhead sprinkler system. I am not exactly sure what caused the fire, but I did hear that it started in the kitchen…probably in the microwave. Again, nobody could predict that this would happen. It was a normal day and yet another example of an incident where the hum-drum of the workday turned into a three month outage.
Training for a mundane event is not very glamorous, but it needs to be considered when running an exercise. This past year, that is exactly what we did for our continuity teams. When we traveled to our major offices, we developed a two part module showing the events of a flooded office caused by a small fire. Were the teams dazzled by this? Yes. Not only did it get their attention, but since it was real and happened to another office within the organization, the teams could better relate to the incident. Using this approach of sharing a real incident made it more impactful for the participants of each of the performed exercises. It also provided evidence for how the crisis management team interacted with one another and who should have a seat at the table.
Team members from Real Estate, Information Technology, and Operations Management each had a role, and worked together to get the impacted office back to business as usual. They used their expertise by bringing in project managers, inspectors, and finance to bring back the office, while the branch managers established work groups and morale boosters (ex. Pizza parties) to show dedication to impacted employees.
When looking at the types of exercises you do, it is important to think about the day-to-day along with the large event. Leadership will challenge you on the probability of the big events and that is where you add in the small things, the mundane every-day hum drum that make an impact. The big event is not the only way to get your stakeholders engaged in continuity. Providing them with something real, and show them the impact of what could happen with no warning. Sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest impact. Consider an “All Hazards” approach to your continuity programs.
About the author
Manager, Crisis Management and Business Continuity