Disasters & the Common Denominator

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or in orbit around some distant planet, enjoying some peace, solitude and quiet, there is obviously an increase in disasters – mostly natural – that seem to play across TV screens, internet sites and radio airwaves on a regular and consistent basis.  Of course, considering some of the natural disasters that have occurred lately, even if you’re locked away in a cave you may have experienced something; earthquake, flood, avalanche or landslides. 

It got me thinking that no matter what the disaster is, there’s a common denominator that runs through them all.  This includes those disasters that are man-made (either intentional or non-intentional) in nature or technical in nature.  .No matter what the common denominator is people

Sometimes the people impacted are directly impacted – like losing their homes (or worse) due to a tornado or it could be people that are impacted downstream.  This may be individuals or corporations that are impacted due to the non-receipt of materials/resources not being delivered because a manufacturer upstream experienced an issue.  No matter how you slice up the disaster and no matter what the cause, the common denominator is always going to be people. 

Sure, you can say that a flood is what impacted everyone but then a flood has other repercussions that can go beyond the people with the flooded basements.  Roads are cut off for travelers, which might – and can – cause them to miss important deadlines or delivery dates (like truckers who are rerouted around a situation).  Even though they are impacted differently they are still impacted by the disaster; people are still the common thread running through each situation. 

If there were no people impacted by a disaster, would we still call it a disaster?  If a landslide occurs due to heavy rains in a remote part of “Country ABC” but there were no people impacted, no roads closed, no downstream issues, would it still be a disaster?   Animals and migration routes (like deer paths etc) may be impacted and it might become an environmental issue but it isn’t a disaster – at least not as we call it in regards to BCM. 

Now, if that landslide cut off a single road or knocked down homes and worse, hurt people, suddenly we have a disaster.  Environmental issues and concerns are different from disasters because people aren’t involved; as soon as people are involved – or impacted – we have an environment disaster.  It’s a disaster now because in some form, people are impacted or affected.  That remote landslide in an area no one lives isn’t a disaster until people are involved somehow. 

Below a list of things that can be impacted by a disaster.  You’ll notice that with each one, one way or another people are impacted either directly or indirectly, upstream or downstream.  You’ll also notice that technology disasters are also listed because, let’s be honest, we are heavily dependent upon it in today’s world and they can be triggered through natural, environmental or man-made causes.  Going back to my earlier example, if that landslide occurred and knocked down power lines – even though no one lives in the area and no people were impacted – it still becomes a disaster because the landslide has cut off the power to people 10’s or 100’s of miles away. 

So here’s the list: Stakeholders, Supply Chains, SLA’s, Facility Issues, Business Processes, Technology Processes, Products, Technology Failures, communications, Sabotage, Natural Disasters, Public Relations Nightmares, Financial Losses or Difficulties, Terrorism (or numerous varieties), Public Demonstrations, Information Security, Privacy Issues and Violations, Floods, Fires, Tornadoes, Power Outages, Pandemics, Drastic Climate Changes and sooooo many more ‘disaster’ triggers

Any one of the above (and I don’t claim this to be an all-encompassing list) will have an impact on people.  The common denominator to everything is people.  The common denominator isn’t a number, it’s people.  Even with technology.

Since many businesses believe they operate with technology, when technology isn’t available then their customers/clients suffer, their employees are non-productive and someone somewhere is scrambling to fix the problem (OK, scrambling may not be the best word but you get the idea). 

If corporations focus on the common denominator they will have a better chance of responding to the situation.  How?  If you know the common denominator in a situation, you can plan for it and ensure the right plans, processes and procedures are developed, validated and incorporated into BCM/DR programs.  Then – to some degree – you can address each ‘trigger’ or disaster from there on because the common denominator has been addressed.  This is the time you can begin to attach specific actions to each ‘trigger’ or disaster such as policies to be implemented for a pandemic outbreak or the manual processes that will kick in when technologies fail. 

If people aren’t impacted – the common denominator isn’t involved – then there isn’t a disaster; it’s just a situation of interest, which if it escalates and impacts people, will become a disaster.


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 **

2 thoughts on “Disasters & the Common Denominator

  1. Alex, you make a valid point. No impact = no disaster. But when can we say that there is really no impact whatsoever? Last year I had a post on my blog that dealt with damage proxies, where the number of affected people or rather the ratio of affected people over the total population served as a measure of the magnitude of the disaster. Anyway, you’re right in one sense though: BCM/BCP is not about technology and keeping operations up and running 24/7. It is about people, the people in your company working for you and the people at the receiving end who depend on your products and services. The technology is just about making it happen, and if the the technology isn’t available anymore (e.g. in a disaster) you must make it happen anyway.

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