10 Tips to Remember When You Don’t Have a Disaster Plan…and Disaster Strikes!

(c) Stone Road Inc. 2014 (A.Alex Fullick)

When disaster strikes, keep calm and march on!! Sometimes it’s not always that easy and in a real situation you really do need to carry on; if you don’t, you’re done! Over! Caput! Even with the numerous disasters occurring in the world – some man-made some natural in nature – there are still many organizations that would rather take their chances with fate than invest in a Disaster Response / Emergency Response / Business Continuity Management program. When disaster does strike, these organizations are left empty handed. With no plans or processes in place to respond to the situation they must ‘wing it’ if they’re to continue staying in business – or attempt to stay in business.
So what should organizations consider and focus on if they are caught in a serious situation and they don’t have a BCM/DR program in place? What do they need to do to try to get some level of coordination in response, restoration, recovery and resumption efforts? Below are some tips for how leaders need to view the predicament they find themselves in; a disaster/crisis with no BCM/DR program or plan in place.

1. Don’t Throw in the Towel – Don’t give up! You’ve got to do something even if you don’t have a proven plan in place, so keep going and do what you feel is right. Under no circumstances should you give up, as you really don’t have an alternative unless you really want your organization to fail. As the saying goes, ‘Keep calm and carry on!’

2. Figure it Out Quickly – Don’t waste time debating and getting everyone’s input on what to do. Figure out what your main objectives are then take it from there. The longer you take the less likely you are to remain in business much longer. And even if you do get up and running, because you took so long to do anything, confidence in your organization will vanish.

3. Focus on People – Make people your priority. A little bit of care and compassion can go along way in public and media perceptions and if you make people priority #1, you’ll be forgiven a bit more for not having a plan or program in place.

4. Reconfigure – Time will be of the essence, so don’t bother trying to get things like-for-like; it won’t happen. You have no plan, which may also mean no alternate site, so get what you can and start rebuilding. It may mean patch-working systems and services together and getting people to do activities they don’t normally do but do it anyway to get your operations up and running. You’ve got a clean slate in front of you, so feel free to reconfigure what you need to make things work. A small beat-up car will get you to “location A” just as well as a luxury car, so if you need to reconfigure…do it.

5. Get Rid of Expectations and Assumptions – Don’t bother asking questions and wondering about assumptions; you need to action things immediately and start doing something. If you’ve had a disaster and have no plan in place, then there are no rules, guidelines, directives or assumptions to work around; no boundaries to hold you back. So everything is possible to you and you’ve got to start trying to get your organization back up and running with technology recovery, business continuity and crisis management so that you can begin to service your clients with the services and products you provide. With assumptions, you may be thinking that everything you need is easily available – including people. However, this might not be the case so throw your assumptions out the window because the only assumption that gets proven correct in a disaster is that all your assumptions are wrong.

6. Emotion Over Intellectual Response – If you want to stay in the good graces of people, then speak to them emotionally, not like an automaton full of intellectual platitudes. If you don’t have a plan in place, you’re biggest fight will be with through how you respond to the disaster as perceived by onlookers not how two IT servers are connected to the internet. Speak with an emotional approach and you may find that people will approach you offering help, assistance and with compassionate sympathy.

7. Don’t Blame – Don’t play the blame game right away. You’re in a disaster and the public, employees, partners and the media what to see you dong something and managing the situation; blaming others is seen as a smoke screen in an effort to deflect questions and criticism. But the opposite occurs so don’t bother playing a game you can’t win. When the dust has settled and you’ve performed investigations into the cause, then you might be in a position to start blaming but it shouldn’t be your priority.

8. Request Help – It’s not time to be proud. If you need assistance to get resources then ask for it. Don’t be shy, as trying to hide the fact you need assistance can cause even more problems. Many organizations are willing to help competitors and partners when they have a disaster but many are too afraid to ask for help because asking for assistance is seen as a weakness when in fact, not asking for assistance is a sign of proud arrogance. If you need help, ask and don’t shy away from stating the issues you have, as it a response or helping hand may appear to help resolve some of the problems you’re facing.

9. People Are Resilient – People do not wantonly wish to fail; they want to succeed and responding to a disaster by their employer is going to make them want to work hard and overcome the situation. Their livelihood is at stake and they aren’t about to let that disappear without fighting for it. Many want to be part of restoration and recovery efforts, as it takes them away from the trauma of what has occurred and helps them focus on areas with which they have more control and knowledge – rebuilding servers, loading applications, testing etc. Your organization isn’t the first to experience and disaster and won’t be the last and in the majority of cases, people overcame adversity by sheer hard work and will power – and never giving up. Let the employees do what they know needs doing instead of trying to make it up on the spot, they are aware of what they need to do, as they do it each day – it’s why you employ them.

10. Listen – Listen to those around you – especially those Subject Matter Experts (SME) and End Users that can offer all sorts of advice on how to get something working again. Often, experts are leveraged from external sources and all too often, they are doing things with their own gain in mind, so don’t throw away suggestions from others, as they may have ideas that can be of assistance and those ideas may work better than some other specialists because they often are thinking outside the box. They are also thinking or ensuring they get their jobs back and their employer operational; a different perspective than some vendors and partners who are more worried about the impact upon their bottom line rather than yours.

11. (BONUS) Document Everything: When the disaster is over – or when you’ve got time to start – begin to document everything you’ve done. Every action item and resolution. Every decision. Every communication – the good and the bad. Every participating role required and what they did – and didn’t need to do. Every action asked and required of partners, vendors and suppliers. Every aspect required to assist employees. This will help start you formal BCM/DR program and begin to pull ideas together for plans because as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, you’ll be building your program immediately. In fact, it’ll probably be the #1 priority of executives and management, assuming you’re organization was able to get through the situation and come out the other side – though probably battered and bruised.

No matter what happens, you have to be doing something. The situation won’t resolve itself by wondering what to do or wondering what ‘might have been’ had you a BCM/DR plan.
When it seems you’re down, get back up and keep playing on – you’re only beaten if you give up, not if the issue continues. It’s said that Edison failed at inventing the light bulb dozens of times but did he give up, no, he played on. Abraham Lincoln give up, despite losing a couple of elections and became President of the United States.

© StoneRoad 2014
By A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, v3ITIL, author of multiple books on BCM including “BIA: Building the Foundation for a Strong Business Continuity Program” and “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”

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