Tests & Exercises: Enough With the Excuses!!

Today was an interesting day.  My client performed a notification drill for all members of their Emergency Response Team (or Crisis Management Team, Disaster Team etc) and the results were quite interesting.  We didn’t announce it to anyone, except the Business Continuity Management (BCM) sponsor who was the one who wanted the ‘surprise’ drill.  The direction was to focus only on the work and cell numbers (or other identified alternate number) and didn’t focus on home phone numbers.  The average response time was just over 6 minutes for the majority of people and we had just about every team represented in that time.  It was great, all the main people – the decision makers – got back to us, which made me quite happy.  However, the aftermath was the most interesting of all.

Since there were still quite a few that didn’t call back, it was them that had the issue with the drill and not for the reasons you’d think.  Many were upset that they weren’t told about the “disaster” in advance and they should have received some sort of notification.  Hhmmm, I don’t know of any disasters that give a call ahead and let you know about them.  Even if you do have forewarning you still have to have some initial contact regardless and find out what needs to be activated – or not.  And since the goal was to validate the contact information and the notification process this client had in place, no prior announcement could be done.  By the way, the same people receiving the notification message had approved all the contact information and the notification process.

It was excuse after excuse, as to why some people didn’t participate (return the call to the predefined number – which they already had) or everything that was wrong with the process.  Though, as I said, these were the same people who built the process (before I ever came along to do some additional work in other areas).

Here’s just a list of some of the execuses and comments these people had (a few might make you chuckle):

  1. I don’t place calls to 1-800/877/866/888 numbers. (You must have one heck of a phone bill!)
  2. I don’t answer 1-800/877/866/888 numbers (To be honest, I can relate to this one.)
  3. The message was too long (It was 4 sentences and was 20 seconds in duration.  It was longer cause the added the piece that said, “This is a drill…”)
  4. Why didn’t you use my other number and not the one I gave you? (Cause you didn’t provide another number, only the one you gave us with instructions it was only supposed to be called in a disaster situation.  Yeah, try figuring that one out…)
  5. I don’t answer my phone unless I know the ‘person’ who is calling. (I can relate here too, actually.)
  6. I turn my phone off at work (Would you believe they were talking about their WORK phone!!!) 
  7. I don’t check voicemail until just before I leave for the day and then return the calls the next day. (No wonder it takes forever to hear back from you.)
  8. I was busy. (OK, but what if this had been real?  Are you still too busy and is that still a valid excuse?)
  9. I was at lunch and that’s ‘my’ time.  (I’ll let Mother Nature know the next time she decides to shake things up with an earthquake; “Sorry love, but could you delay any natural disaster for us today?  It’s my lunchtime.)
  10. Couldn’t you do this drill some other time?  (And a convenient time for a disaster would be…?)
  11. Why wasn’t I part of the drill?  I have an important role. (Umm, cause your boss didn’t make you part of the Emergency Response Team…go complain to him)

 It really was incredible how people were doing their upmost to deflect the drill results.  It wasn’t their fault they didn’t answer the call or that they didn’t provide the correct number – it was the BCM teams fault for not making sure they had the right number.  I know they could have double-checked with Human Resources, since they had contact information for everyone in the company.  Well, it was checked with HR.  And guess what, one person had moved over a year ago, changed addresses and numbers and didn’t tell anyone. Yet, it was still the company’s fault for not knowing about it.  Did I hear it right then?  Company’s should know when people move and know when they change things even though it’s must be the employee who tells their employer.  The only way a company would know would to put some sort of “Big Brother” process in place – and I doubt anyone will want that. 

Let’s face it.  There’s no good time for a disaster and there’s no good time to receive a notification message from your company saying there’s been a disaster and you’re to get in touch.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone message or an email message, there’s still not good time.  But then that’s why they’re called disasters, right? (Sudden, unplanned, unexpected and all that…)

Since this was under controlled circumstances it makes one wonder what would happen in a real situation.  Would some of these people – that had every excuse in the book NOT to answer or return the notification message – be the right people to contact?  Would they be able to get over the initial shock quick enough to be able to make key decisions and get the ‘restoration and recovery’ ball rolling?  I think many would be able to, once they got over the initial shock of the situation.  Still, there are some that got onto the team simply because they either forced their way on the team or were appointed but have no obvious skill set that would help the team; which leads me to believe they were just ‘delegated’ the role cause the person who should be on the team didn’t want to be part of it.  They side stepped the item.  Well, today it just might come back to bite them… Better now than during a real situation, I guess.

After doing a bit of follow up, we found that in a few cases, this was the case.  Many people had no idea they were on the team and would be part of this drill – they were named by their boss but never told about it.  (FYI – I’ve written another blog about that so watch for that in the next posting.)  

Still, not all was bad with the drill.  They were able to reach over half their recipients and of those that did check in, they had 4 of the top 5 decision makers.  To me this was a good result because decisions could be made and things could get started in a bad situated.  Not only that but the average returned call was just above 6 minutes and 30 seconds.  Not bad at all – considering all the complaining that came afterwards and some other issues uncovered.

Obviously there’s some awareness work to be done here and other bits of follow up to be done – like some training for others.  Even though there were excuses coming out of every possible direction, the company found that it could get DR/BCM initiatives started with those that it did contact successfully.  Despite all that, it has helped move BCM up on people’s radar and get them involved.  Even though I wasn’t a major part of this drill, it certainly is going to make my little role easier (I’m only here for a very short engagement).  It’s amazing how a little drill can have a big impact on the BCM program.  I can’t wait to see how things develop in the future and how the focus of those who once ignored BCM – or didn’t even know about it – suddenly give it more time in their calendars.  I’ve also got a feeling that the make-up of the CMT may change based on some of the findings.  Those that didn’t want to be part of the structure suddenly want to be – we’ll see if they need to and we’ll see if it changes anyone’s mindset about the team (and program in general).

There were lots of excuses but then excuses won’t help when the media and public want to know why your organization didn’t plan for emergencies.  Remember; “The hardest part about planning for a disaster, is explaining why you didn’t.”


The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”  Available at www.stone-road.com **


One thought on “Tests & Exercises: Enough With the Excuses!!

  1. Sounds like you had some fun.

    I am always amazed at the need for many people to “succeed” in the test – without them actually taking any part of the process seriously.

    A number of interesting learnings about the way we process phone calls these days – very applicable to a lot of people. I know I will often use voice mail to screen a blocked number or one I don’t recognise.

    I have seen notification processes using SMS that avoided some of these issues, but of course limited to mobile phones. Everything has a down side!

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