Many organizations can build comprehensive BCM program and plans; detailing every action and activity needed to ensure the continued operation of an organization when a disaster strikes. However, even the most comprehensive program and plan can still suffer greatly when they are needed the most because many organizations’ DR team and team members forget what it is they are supposed to do.
There are many reasons for that. Sudden changes in environment can throw people for a loop, as the situation throws chaos into their normal day and it’s easy for people to forget what to do when they are required to do it. Sometimes the reason for plan activities or action items being forgotten occur even before the disaster situation makes itself known.
Below are some of the reasons why people – and organizations – forget their activities before and during a disaster.
1. No Executive Support: It’s easy to forget some initiative within an organization when even the executive leadership don’t support it. After all, if they don’t care for something, why should anyone else? It’s that simple, without executive support people will quickly forget that there is BCM or DR program in place for when a disaster occurs. Even executives will wonder where it is and believe it or not, even without their support having played a part in its development (if at all) will wonder why no one knows what’s going on and why people aren’t performing tasks.
2. No Leadership: Continuing on from #1, people want leadership during a disaster; they believe that those responsible for the organization in good times, is also responsible for the organization during bad times and will provide guidance and leadership on what needs to be done when a disaster occurs. If there is no one taking responsibility for the disaster, then people are left hanging – wondering what to do. This doesn’t mean the leader or coordinator of the response functions is responsible for the disaster, it means they are taking the responsibility to lead the organization resulting of the disaster. Even if employees and members of various DR teams are aware of their activities, they are still looking at the organizations leadership to provide direction and provide answers to any key questions that may come up as a result of specific situations discovered based on the disaster. If executives and/or senior management aren’t part of the decision making process and part of the BCM program, they won’t know what to do or what is expected of them. The executives themselves won’t be aware of the DR/BCM team makeup or what any of the program protocols are. They could end up trying to lead the organization through the disaster, blind.
3. No Plans: One of the biggest reasons people will stand around wondering what to do is that there isn’t a plan – even a bad one – in place for them to activate, reference and follow. In a nutshell, the organization has done nothing to promote any sort of disaster response or planning mechanisms and when disaster strikes, there is no know prioritization of what needs to be activated. All the responses are made up on the spot, which could pose even more problems for the organization. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle; you don’t start putting the pieces together until you know the picture (or at least most people don’t) and you can’t rebuild a corporation after a disaster when you don’t even know what pieces you need first to rebuild it. No plans in place can mean the end of the organization, as it will take too long to figure out what is priority between the business and technology and getting the two to agree to a restoration, recovery and resumption strategy. You can’t ‘wing’ it in a disaster…
4. No Delegation of Authority: It’s often quite comical when someone is required to perform BCM activities, as captured in a DR/BCP or crisis management plan but they aren’t give the authority to do so. This can mean they don’t have the delegation of authority to make decisions or provide guidance to others or they don’t have the IDs and/or passwords to perform functions. It’s like giving someone a car and telling them it is all paid for and its there for as long as they want it but not giving them the key. This is one thing that stops many organizations from performing activities; people don’t have the authority to do anything and thus, they are waiting for direction from others when in fact they are the ones who are supposed to be providing the direction. If someone doesn’t have the right authority to perform activities, they will be a roadblock to other activities and many groups may be standing and waiting around for guidance and information. And further on the point of IDs and passwords; often this information is created and placed in a secure location that people forget about. Rarely are they reviewed and updated and even remembered because they are placed in an online folder, which is no longer available because technology has failed. These IDs and passwords are for use only during a disaster so they rarely get reviewed. These should be part of an annual (at least) review to ensure the people remember where they are and what they are – and remember that these are probably powerful IDs and passwords and only a few key people should know about them to start with. If someone leaves the organization, make sure you change the passwords and remove their ID just in case. When you test, try activities using these profiles to ensure that they are current and validated; that required activities can be performed using these ‘generic’ IDs and passwords but are amended after the test so they are fresh and those using them – the users – can’t use them during normal business hours.
5. No Testing/Validation: If validation activities are not performed, then how can anyone know exactly what to do? Testing is a form of training and training will help people identify their roles and build BCM plans and processes. When testing, start off small and then build upon successes – and upon problems – so that the program becomes stronger and stronger. If no one participates in test then no one has the opportunity to practice their roles and areas of responsibility; they then need someone to remind them or provide guidance to them as to what to do. Also, if you only test once or rarely, people will forget what they need to do and where their materials are located.
6. Assumptions: A key reason many stand around not knowing what to do, or forgetting what they need to do, is related back to the assumptions made during the initial stages of building and implementing plans and processes. All too often non-technology departments (i.e. “the business”) will make assumptions about technology departments (i.e. “IT”) but without ever validating that the assumptions are correct; sometimes never even letting the other know that an assumption has even been made. From personal experience, there have been too many instances where one side of the other states that ‘IT/business knows x or y…’ or that ‘IT/business will do…’ and it almost never proves to be true. Both teams end up confused not knowing what to do because they are waiting on the other for information or they are assuming that something is occurring while they’re just waiting for some confirmation that an activity is done. In reality, everyone is standing around not knowing what to do or who to even talk to. If you’re using assumption in your initial planning, through exercises and tests, the amount of assumptions being used should dwindle over time as they either become actual roles within a plan/process or become proven to be false and are removed from a plan/process.
7. No Awareness & Training: It’s a simple one really; no one knows what to do in a disaster because no one has told them about it. They haven’t been part of the overall program build or design (not that everyone needs to be part of every phase) and haven’t been told they are responsible for specific activities. Often, DR team members don’t even know they are part of that team until someone asks what they are going to do in a meeting full of other managers – some not sure why they are their in the first place. This also means that they haven’t bee involved with any testing activities to help validate plans, which is one of the best opportunities for training; executing activities under controlled circumstances to actually learn what needs to be completed and understand expectations.
8. Plans and Processes are Written in Isolation: Sometimes its not even a case of forgetting what needs to be done, as outlined in a BCP/DR plan – it’s never being told of what is in the plan and not being part of its build. All to often plans are build in isolation meaning someone not within the department is writing its contents based on what they know and what they hear at meeting yet if the actual user isn’t part of that development or the person responsible for actioning activities isn’t part of the plans development, they aren’t going to know what activities they are responsible for. Ensure that all plans are written with the person or persons responsible for the plan itself; the person who’ll actually be responsible to action the activities within the plan.
9. No Review of Plans (by Users): One of the best ways to ensure that a BCP/DR plans everything it needs and that the content is clear and understood, is to ensure that its reviewed by the actual user. When they review existing plans, as noted in #8 above, they can recommend enhancements, additions or even deletions based on real knowledge of what needs to be done. If a plan was written in isolation and not review was performed by an actual user, it’s no wonder people don’t know what actions to take or even where their plans is – if they even know there is a plan in the first place. If no review of the plan is performed then the users themselves don’t become familiar with content and what is expected of them. Instead of initiating proactive measures they wait for someone to tell them what is expected and in many cases, those individuals are assuming that ‘plan’ users know what needs to be done.
10. Focus on Blame: When an organization has a disaster, often you see the Public Relations (PR) representative or the President stand in front of a microphone being questioned by members of the media – or even the public sometimes – and they spend allot of time pointing the finger of blame or trying to deflect any criticism or questioning on what the organization is doing. When employees see this, they will spend their time trying to find the cause of the problem or the ‘right one to blame’ rather than concentrating on a proper response, restoration and recovery strategy. All hands are on deck to find out what is wrong and who should be help responsible but if leadership is busy with that approach then employees will be too, as they won’t be focusing on the right tasks at hand. It ends up being a crutch that organizations leverage so that they can start their restoration and recovery activities in the background, away from the face of the media. Usually, this means they didn’t have any strategy in place to begin with and the excuse that someone else is to blame is used as a smokescreen to cover the fact that behind the scenes, no one knows what to do within the organization.
11. Checklist Approach: If BCM is checkbox on someone’s report, the chances are it’s a checkbox on an executive report. They eventually see the checkbox ticked and then there is no more discussion or promotion of the BCM initiatives. This also means that the only reason the program was stated in the first place was to ensure someone’s checkbox was ticked and that it drops off of any report or audit ticket. Chances are good that the work and value of the work performed to plan, develop and execute plans was minimal at best and won’t be of much use during a real situation. Thus, no one will pay close attention to the BCM program and the related plans because it’s treated as a one-time thing – forgotten when the checkbox is identified as complete.
12. Seeking Direction: Like many people, when something occurs everyone looks around for direction; who will take control of the situation and tell us what to do? Staff will look to management while management is looking at executives; each expecting the other to provide direction on what they should – or shouldn’t – be doing. Think of when a fire alarm goes off in a facility – even a fire drill – most people keep working or start asking if it’s a real situation or not. Should be get up? Should we leave? Many wait to be told to leave before they bother responding to the alarms. If people can’t understand that they need to leave when the fire alarms go off its no wonder they don’t understand their role when a disaster strikes. Everyone is seeking direction from someone else.
Finally, panic is something that can run rampant during a disaster. When that happens, any thought of gaining control of the situation can go out the window and there’s no way anyone is going to pay attention to their role on a disaster team when that happens. This is why many of the items noted above need to be addressed prior to any situation occurring. When people are more aware of what to do and have been through it a few times – each more challenging than the last – they are better prepared to deal with the situation when it’s real – not faked under controlled circumstances, as it is usually done during a test. There will still be an element of panic – it’s almost a given – but putting measures in place to deal with it ahead of time can help reduce its impact and increase the chances considerably that no one will be standing around wondering what to do; they won’t forget.
© StoneRoad (Stone Road Inc) 2013
Books by A. Alex Fullick Available at the following:
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