Japanese Earthquake (2011): Mother Nature Escalates the Worst Case Scenario

First of all, sorry for the delay in posting an article.  StoneRoad just moved into its new offices and our attention was focused on ensuring we didn’t loose anything.  Good news, we didn’t and all is well.   Now, back to the latest post.

The pictures haven’t been pretty.  The film clips have been dramatic but the reality is, the Japanese earthquake has been devastating.  It’s even been more devastating than the recent New Zealand earthquake (Feb 2011) – it was devastating in its own right.  What the Japanese earthquake and resulting tsunami has provided, is a new worst-case scenario.

Sure, in many plans the worst case scenario was an earthquake or it was a tsunami.  In some instances, it would be the meltdown – or near meltdown – of a nuclear power plant, complete with explosions.  The earthquake has also provided the loss of life – the loss is still rising at the time of writing – and the loss of multiple facilities and infrastructure needs to help those impacted by the disaster.  It seems all the worst case situations – earthquakes, tsunamis, power plant explosions – along with the resulting scenarios associated with each of the situations, has come to fruition all in a single disaster.

Unlike the NZ earthquake, the Japanese one had two plates rubbing up against each other in an up-and-down motion, rather than the NZ one where it was two plates passing each other (A Layman’s description…).  The resulting up and down motion caused the tsunami, not present in NZ, and has caused even more devastation and destruction for Japan.  Including wiping off a couple of small town right off the map…unless mounds of debris can be called a town.

As practitioners and professionals in DR/BCM/ERM, we make plans for the worst-case scenario – or should be at any rate – and then work on the nuances of each so as to make the plans stronger and more able to deal with various situations that might occur to our facilities, people, operations and technologies.

At one time the worst case situation was having a plane crash into the building.  In fact, I remember days when that used to be a bit of a laugh when people suggested it.  I don’t think I need to describe how those laughs ended on September 11, 2001 and the situation became real and a legitimate consideration in disaster/business continuity planning.

Now we have multiple situations occurring all at the same time; is this the new worst case situation to consider?  Has Mother Nature upped the ante and made us more aware of what natural disasters can do to our plans – besides throwing every assumption and process out the window. 

For mature programs, it’s time to start combining situations and multiple scenarios.  We can’ t just say we have a plan to deal with earthquakes, we have to take that steps further along the path.  We have to know that when an earthquake occurs – a severe one – what else will it do to the community, people, facilities and our corporations.  A simple evacuation plan might not cover it anymore.  Japan is a perfect example of that right now.

The nuclear plants experiencing severe issues at the moment may be something that was on the radar and there may be plans in place to deal with issues within the power plant…and that’s great!  However, what if you throw in a tsunami as the cause or the earthquake as the cause?  Would those same plans be able to address the situation?  Time will tell in Japan, as that very situation is playing out right now as of writing.

We can plan and plan and plan again until we think we have it right – and often, we just might.  However, if we really want to test ourselves, look at the headlines and what really does occur in when a disaster strikes.  Take your worst-case situation and build upon it.  Keep adding new challenges to the plans and then you’ll find even more hidden assumption that may not be documented but are in the minds of those using the plans – and those responsible for the programs (i.e. executives etc). 

Japan is known around the world as having one of the best earthquake preparedness programs – awareness, training etc – in place but I doubt they could have thought of the current situations and scenarios slowly playing out.  It may be uncomfortable facing reality – casualties etc – but in a disaster, that is fact.  It’s not something that anyone wants but in a disaster a casualty is going to occur.  One is too many but it will still occur. 

There are a lot of opportunities to learn new processes, thinking, procedures, response efforts, communications and more from this disaster.  Combined with recent NZ earthquake and the one in China in early 2011, we can gain many new insights and situations.  When we think we have the definitive worst-case situation, throw Mother Nature into the mix and see everything through new eyes.  She continues to challenge us, even when we think we’ve got it all sorted, she will turn everything on its head. 

Mother Nature has just provided us a new worst case situation – at least if you live near the ocean, that is.


 “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility” and “Made Again Volume 1 – Practical Advice for Business Continuity Programs”

by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3

Available at www.stone-road.com, www.amazon.com & www.volumesdirect.com

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