2012 & Natural Disasters: Changing or Improving the Face of BCM?

Some time ago, I posted a note about 2012 and if any plans would be developed (https://stoneroad.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/cry-wolf-is-2012-the-next-y2k-for-bcm/) and it got quite a few hits and comments – still does get quite the number of views.  Since then, I’ve come across many comments about 2012 and disasters – or the potential for disasters.  Therefore, I thought I should write a follow up – that and recent events. 

It started with a chat a couple of weekends ago with a gentleman I met at the local who has been following the 2012 phenomena (for lack of a better term) and he had some interesting viewpoints, especially when I mentioned what I do for a living.  He said that 2012 isn’t necessarily the cataclysmic end of the world – as the doomsayers would have you believe – but the end of an era; a cycle if you will.  However, leading up to the end of this cycle would be an ‘upheaval’ in the natural world.  For us, that means an increase in natural disasters. 

As BCM professionals and quite possibly, many Emergency Response personnel, we’re quite familiar with natural disasters.  Heck, when we do our Risk Assessments / Analysis (RA), many corporations note earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and hurricane’s as potential threats because of the location of their operations/facilities.  To some degree, we’ve always been focusing somewhat on natural disasters.  What’s different now, seems to be the frequency of these disasters and the ‘prophesy’ of 2012 that states they will increase as the December 2012 date approaches. 

This man noted an increase in natural disasters that have impacted countries, people/communities, industries, supply lines (and supplies in general for that matter) and corporations around the world.  Just look at the list; Turkey, China, Chile, Haiti, New Zealand (all earthquakes); Iceland, Indonesia and Malaysia with volcanoes, which were thought to be extinct or at least inactive for 100’s of years.  An increase in floods in Portugal, Pakistan, China and many many other locations.  All this while other areas, such as the lower Amazon River in Peru, is so low due to drought (and man-made causes I might add) had to stop the shipment of goods getting to many communities because there’s a lack of water in the river to allow travel. 

It’s kind of hard not to agree with some of what he said because it’s all happening right now – and continues to occur.  He also said that – and I agreed – that from his perspective, corporations need to view their recovery/contingency strategies better.  There is so much focus on security and man-made disasters, that sometimes natural disasters are overlooked yet, are on the increase.  Corporations, people and communities can’t ignore them anymore.  Those, ‘it only happens every 20 years’ situations are occurring now.  Volcanoes are causing travel issues (and supply chain issues), rain is flooding many valleys (think of the Pakistan floods) and there is no longer a valid reason to not think a natural disaster won’t occur in your own area. 

Though I’ve read up on 2012, I’m not convinced everything is related to the 2012 phenomenon.  Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about other things.  If natural disasters are on the increase, we do need to focus on the potential and impacts of natural disasters.  The Iceland volcano brought millions of travelers to a standstill and customers waited for products/supplies because of restrictions to travel arrangements. 

BCM/DR has always had an Emergency Response component to it.  Now, because of an increase in natural disasters, there seems to be a bit more focus on this area.  Traditionally – at least from many things I hear from people – BCM/DR related to Technology Recovery (aka Disaster Plans) but now the awareness seems to be spreading outwards and people/organizations are beginning to understand that BCM is more than just ensuring systems and applications are made available. 

They are beginning to see that it encompasses the immediate response activities to a disaster, the communications, the care of those impacted by the situation (you might call them the victims of disasters) and the mobilization of teams to manage the situation before any technology plans are activated.  In Canada, the Federal and Provincial governments have been telling people for some time now that they should be prepared to help themselves for up to 72hrs before expecting help from other groups, as a result of a disaster.  We should have some water and food and medicine available (in a home emergency kit) so that we can sustain and maintain ourselves after a disaster; you can’t expect 1st responders to be everywhere at every moment (they aren’t unlimited in personnel after all). 

Emergency Response personnel (and this is well beyond the usual floor/fire warden level of emergency response) are working more closely with corporations because of the kind – and number – of disaster occurring.  One of the first things people want to have restored is some level of health services, power and communications.  Well, if corporations don’t have the right processes in place to help deal with this these disasters, there will be issues with achieving these goals.  What I’m saying is that power supply companies, for example, must have the right BCM/DR teams, personnel, processes and communications in place to allow for the re-establishment of communications lines and power supplies to help the general population.  Without this in place, communities and corporations can’t get their own systems and services up and running.   So, natural disasters are bringing varying groups with varying focus together; BCM, DR, ERP/ERM, governments etc.

Natural disasters are now getting people to think beyond IT recovery.  Base don’t he number of disasters that seem to be occurring, it’s allowing other areas of the BCM realm to come forward and be recognized and BCM is now being seen as much larger than just the technology component.  Natural disasters don’t have borders or boundaries, they simply occur where they occur.  Look at the floods in Pakistan; the floods hampered and impacted India next door. 

In BCM, it’s very much the same.  Departments and the organization in general, must have some sort of plan to maintain themselves 1st before they can help others.  A simple example would be what manual processes a corporation can put in place while other activities – technology recovery – are under way.  Maybe they can capture caller queries/questions (assuming phones are working of course) and then get back to them when systems become available.  A very simple example I know but I think you get the drift of it.

Maybe no one is crying wolf over 2012 but we should be at least taking note of the natural disasters occurring around us.  The more they occur in other parts of the world, the closer one might be coming to you and your area.  Is your corporation ready to deal with natural disasters, whether you believe they are 2012 related or not?  Was focus given to technology over other activities?  There’s nothing wrong with ensuring you have great IT plans but without communications, the right teams etc, what value with they give you?  

Your people will be affected by a natural disaster; the very people you will rely on to perform many BCM/DR tasks; what will you do when they have lost their homes.  Are they going to come to the office first to make sure your processes/services are available or take care of their loved ones?  I bet I know what many would be thinking. 

BCM is growing into more than just IT and a few other bits.  It always was bigger but now – sadly, thanks to an increase in natural disasters – many are starting to see what BCM professionals have been saying all along.  It’s bigger and finally the face of BCM is changing.  Well, maybe not changing per say but becoming clearer for those that couldn’t see before. 


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 “2012 & Natural Disasters: Changing or Improving the Face of BCM?

  1. Alex, you highlight one of the common failings – expecting staff to leave damaged homes and injured family to activate the corporate BC Plan.
    Unlikely to happen in a wide-scale disaster.

    But consider the flip side. What are corporates planning to do to aid their staff in such a disaster?

    In some cases a large corporate may be the major employer in a small town, it is their interest to ensure there is a degree of resilience in that community. After all the community are your staff and the families/friends.

    2012 sounds like it could be good for business!

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