The Iceland Volcano: Potential Learning’s for Business Continuity? (Part II)

As promised, here is Part II and more comments/learning’s. 

  1. Monetary Assistance – If the airlines are losing money, there is the chance that people may be temporarily laid off from work, which could cause labour issues.  But is this really the airlines fault?  Can a person or entity be blamed for a natural disaster?  What happens when one does occur and may people are stranded?  I watched one report that interviewed a couple stranded in Toronto, Canada – heading home (or trying) to England.   They were at the end of their money and couldn’t afford anything more, as their budget had run out and there was nothing left for spare.  The reporter didn’t state if they were relying on the travel agents to help or if they’d been in contact with family members yet for assistance but, there was an interesting comment made by the traveler.  He stated that maybe for airlines (but not limited to airlines, it was just the subject they were speaking of), they have a pool of money put aside for when disasters strike to help out stranded passengers, which would also help stranded airline staff.  All airlines, shipping companies, rail and car companies could contribute a small amount that would only be used to help their respective industries – and their customers – when a natural disaster strikes.  It could be used for airline passengers to move over to cruise line or rail service for assistance without incurring more bills.  Or it could be used to get hotel rooms and food if they simply can’t find another mode of travel and have to wait it out.  It was interesting but as far as I know the travel industry already has something along these lines (well, the agent I use does anyway…) and it’s basically travel insurance in case something occurs.  Still, the idea of a large pool being available seemed interesting for such large occurrences seemed intriguing, though I wonder who’d oversee it and how it would be managed. 
  2. Business Opportunities – If you worked in the car rental, cruise line or rail fields during the flight grounding period, you should have spotted some great opportunities to do business (depending on where you were of course).  Some rail services and cruise lines had significantly increased business due to people still wanting – and needing – to travel to their destinations.  It was noted by a financial commentator on the radio (in Toronto) that shares in Royal Caribbean Cruise Line had gone up simply because of the situation.  Some of the other businesses involved should also focus on their BCP plan not just from the negative aspects, but the positive as well.  When a disaster strikes there are opportunities to help and increase their business.  This is NOT to say that there is money made during a disaster – that’s a horrible and despicable way of capturing the point.  The ideas is that when one industry is hurt – like rail – then others step in to help those affected such as shipping, car rentals and airlines.  I know it will be hard to believe that many will step up without thinking of money first but if they step up to help people first, the reward will come back to them when those affected by the rail disaster decide to choose to use the services of someone who help them when they needed it.  Not only that, but corporations that provide other services can help improve their standing and services but not at the expense of those impacted by a disaster.  If you provide teleconferencing services then help corporation realize the benefits of having this as part of their operations, rather than gouging them at the time of the disaster.  The Chinese character for crisis/disaster is displayed with two characters; one meaning ‘danger’ and the other meaning ‘opportunity.’  Whether you agree or not, there is opportunity in every adverse situation, even it it’s not quite apparent at the time. (NOTE:  I want to stress here that there is a difference between finding opportunities to help people – and benefiting from it – and finding opportunities to simply exploit the situation for personal/financial gain.  The focus must be to help 1st rather than focusing on the wallet or bank balance.)
  3. Supply Chain Reviews – Corporations waiting for parts may want to look for new suppliers – closer to home – because a delay in getting parts could hinder and impact their operations.  Relaying on a single supplier (in this case in Europe) may not be the best option, as there is a great amount of distance between Europe and North America; distance not noticed when it comes to the internet.  And as we’ve seen from manufacturing strikes in the past, when a supplier has a strike the ripple effect spreads outwards and can greatly impact other corporations.  This can cause staff to be let go and in some extreme cases, even businesses to go under.  Still, a review of the supplier is crucial – when a business heavily reliant upon others – if it’s to continue when disaster strike.  The disaster may not strike the actual business but it can stop others that do business with them to experience issues.  Therefore, a volcano in Iceland can influence Europe (as we’ve seen) and can also impact companies in the USA, Canada and other parts of the world.  Now, the disaster has spread and it’s not because of the volcano itself, it’s because of the suppliers that are impacted.  Let’s face it, it’s a good idea to have a contingency in place in case a main supplier goes ‘belly up’ or has a business disruption.  If your local convenience store is closed, you know to go to another one a little further away – you have your backup plan in place, even if it isn’t so convenient.
  4. Health Concerns (1) – If you’ve ever been in a large crowd you know how hot it can get and how uncomfortable people feel.  I myself don’t like being on a crowded subway when its sweltering outside because I get hot and uncomfortable; imagine what it must be like for stranded travelers in an airport.   One commentator at an airport in London, UK noted that many people waiting to fly stated they felt unclean and uncomfortable because there was only so much they could do to keep clean.  They couldn’t take a shower since they weren’t available.  Many washed their faces etc in the restrooms and if they were lucky enough to have their luggage with them, changed some clothes as well.  Still other weren’t as lucky and were feeling like those stuck on a full subway on the hottest day of the year.  Could these conditions make people ill?  The commentator wouldn’t commit one way or another but did say it was a breeding ground for germs and even if people were safe, they could still get sick from the germs lingering in the waiting areas.  He went on to say that corporations should watch for any signs of illness from travelers just in case when they get back from vacation, as they may have caught something while waiting in crowded airports and other locations (train stations etc).  To me, that’s just a bit of a stretch.  You can get ill when you’re just beside one person – because they were coughing – just as easily as being in a crowd.  Heck, there are many reasons people can get ill; a cold, flu or some other contagious ailment.  Because a volcano erupted is just another opportunity to catch something from someone (based on the conditions of overcrowding at some airports etc), it’s certainly not a new thing.  I’ve caught a cold from a work colleague before so how is it different in an airport? 
  5. Health Concerns (2) – I think the major health concern should be the ash that is in the air.  Scientists said there could be minute bits of glass that we can inhale and cause repertory problems.  I think that is more of a concern that catching a cold.  Like the firefighters and other 1st responders during the 9/11 World Trade Centre disaster, the dust and ash can cause many lingering and long term problems.  It’s these things that people need to look out for.  It’s these things that may have impacts upon operations because there may be an increase in disabilities and an increase in the use of a corporations Employee Assistance Providers (EAP).  That’s what those programs are in place to do, so I don’t see this as an issue.  I do see the potential hazards of people becoming ill as a result of the volcano’s dust and ash.  Depending on the role of the person who becomes ill as a result of the ash and dust, it could cause issues with employee availability.
  6. Contingency Plan Reviews – If this one has to be explained, well, I give up.  This should be a no-brainer.  Anytime there is a disaster – man-made or natural – a review of some sort should be performed.  This is not necessarily a review of the disaster itself and what it can do, but rather a review of the repercussions and outcomes of the situation.  If you lived on a tropical island in the pacific you probably won’t investigate to see if your plan would work as a result of a snowstorm.  However, if a snowstorm impacted the east coast of the US or in many parts of Canada, you may want to investigate how communications were managed and handled.  You may have a completely different disaster on your hands – being on the tropical island – but you can learn something from how the snowstorm was managed thousands of miles away. 
  7. Stranded Personnel – Those that don’t have the funds to pay for hotels etc will begin to have problems.  Of course, there may be some instances where people can help them out – just look at the wonderful people in the Canadian maritime provinces that helped the stranded passengers after the 9/11 attacks.  If something like that happens again (not that I’m every hoping it does), local airline representatives could know in advance where local amenities are and offer better assistance to passengers.  The airlines are part of the local corporate community are they not?  If so, they should be aware of what is around them and how knowing the community can help them when they are impacted.  This will end up benefiting their passengers in the long run who will see the airline as something that cares for their health, safety and overall well-being.
  8. Review Costs / Reimbursements – All travelers should know what options are available to them when they are stranded or have problems with their carriers.  This includes trains, cruise lines and car rental providers, not just airlines.  Many travel agents provide this information (mine does) but all to often people believe nothing will happen to them and thus, can’t understand what to do when crisis strikes.  All travelers should have travel insurance as well, as it will make things much easier in the long run.
  9. Trains / Cruise Lines Staffing Levels – When a disaster strikes one line of business, others should check their status and see if they can step in to help.  It was noted during the volcano eruption that cruise lines, car rental affiliates and train usage increased yet, none were prepared.  Some had backlogs and were complaining about the number of people they had approaching them for travel arrangements.  Really?  A business complaining about too much business?  Which I had the problem.  The point is, when a disaster strikes all organizations should review the situation as it relates to them immediately. It could be that they become busier and they should amend schedules and staffing level accordingly.  Even if it’s just to place people on alert…just in case. 

10. Airport Security / Crowd Control – When restrictions are lifted, there may be civil unrest.  Those waiting may be upset and become angry for waiting and not be able to move – it can cause unrest.  Look at what happened after Katrina; people were not receiving care and aid and took matters into their own hands.  Officials called it looting while those hungry, cold and injured called it survival.  On another point, when air travel restrictions are lifted (or any manner of travel restriction for that matter, based on the disaster) there will be a ‘rush’ to travel outlets for people to make alternate arrangements.  For some reason, travel providers are always shocked at the rush of people and complain about people being angry.  So they call in additional security to help out.  Really?  Let’s see, I’ve been stranded for a week in a foreign country with no extra money, no clean clothes, little food, no possibility of getting home, no contact with loved ones (or little anyway) and you expect people to be in a ‘jolly good’ mood?  Pu-lease!  Maybe addition additional security is required to calm the frustration over slow help from providers. With their presence, maybe people will be calmer but at the same time, maybe it will spark providers to take into consideration the stranded, impacted person a bit more. 

11. Show Compassion – I know the last section seemed to be a bit downtrodden on travel providers and overall (on a personal level) I don’t fully believe that all personnel involved are trying to make things tough for people.  They too are impacted by the disaster.  They too can’t see their loved ones and they are probably working overtime (and in today’s economy, probably not getting much for the overtime) to try and help people.  It was nice to see people give up their scheduled flights for a day for those that had been impacted for up to a week.  That showed compassion and strength of character by those who were willing to put their plans on hold for those that had been waiting in limbo for days.  Good ol’ human kindness ain’t dead….and it took a disaster to show it. 

These are just some of the findings I’ve noted reading articles and watching the nightly news.  Some I agree with and others I’m not so sure of to be honest.  Should companies look for sales opportunities during disaster?  I don’t think it would come across as good business if you’re trying to make money of off those that have been impacted by a disaster; kind of cold and callous if you ask me.  However, I do see the opportunity to learn from the disaster and lend a helping hand.  I think it really comes down to your motives and intentions; they’re either good or bad. 

            Still, there are some great considerations for all corporations regardless of the nature of your business.  Some considerations may apply and some won’t but if you don’t’ review and take a look at what you have then you’ll never know. 

            Maybe a volcano wasn’t a situation you ever thought of as a potential show-stopper or disaster that could affect you.  The Iceland situation shows that entire continents can be affected by a disaster such as the volcanic eruption.  It will be interesting to see what the long-term effects will be since the volcano (as of writing this) is still spewing ash, though at a reduced level now. 

            Take a look at your plans and see what you’d do if a volcano exploded and had impact upon your operations.  It might be fun trying to find out but it’s better to have fun looking at it that going through hell living it. 

**NOW AVAILABLE**

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 **

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