We’ve Got Our Radio Show Named!!

After receiving many suggestions and lots of feedback, the upcoming radio show dedicated to all things related to Business Continuity Management (BCM), the name has been chosen: Continue reading

When is a Disaster Considered a Disaster?

It’s kind of like the old question; ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?’ A disaster isn’t a disaster if there’s no measureable impact. No impact to people’s perception of the situation. No impact to people’s lives. If there is a large fire but there is no people or property (facilities, IT equipment etc.) or processes involved – either by fighting the fire or being impacted by the fire – is it still a disaster? There are no fire fighters and no burning buildings, which have no people being impacted so is it still a fire worth tracking and determining the impact and disaster level? No, because there is no measureable impact.
There will be arguments that state yes, it is a disaster because of the damage it can still cause (i.e. the environment) but if no one is involved how do you know it’s a disaster? There’s nothing that tells you it’s a disaster; nothing to point towards to say ‘this’ is the reason for the fire being a disaster because when the large fire is discovered it’s impact isn’t known…yet
A disaster must have some level of measurable impact. Something that can be ‘seen’ and ‘felt’ by people before it can be classified as a real disaster – and it has to impact people, otherwise it may just be an incident or an event of note. A fire in the middle of nowhere can still be a disaster, but if no one is there to see it, fight it or be impacted by it, it’s not classified as a real disaster because there’s nothing to measure as an impact.
For a disaster to be a disaster – in the eyes of people, media and the public in general – there has to be an impact to;
• People;
• Communities & Community Infrastructure;
• Service interruptions;
• Resources;
• Facilities;
• Technology (including those that impact services and processes);
• Suppliers;
• Vendors;
• Partners;
• Finances;
• Responders…and more.

If there is no measurable impact to any of the above, it’s not a disaster or a situation worth reporting on, it may just be an incident or Business As Usual (BAU) occurrence for which response mechanisms have already been developed to address. A means of addressing the situation before it escalates out of immediate control to become a disaster. Or even, the means to respond to the non-event when the non-event escalates and does begin to have an impact. Staying with the fire example, a forest fire may be a bad situation but not a disaster until it continues out of control and begins to threaten communities. Then what started as a non-event or non-disaster suddenly becomes a disaster.
The argument can be made that anything that impacts another is a disaster. A forest fire is a disaster because it destroys property, animal life and the natural resources it envelopes. But again, if there is no one to fight the fire – or even plan to fight the fire and maybe even to see the fire – is there a real disaster when no one is involved? If people are not involved with the situation by either resolving or addressing it or being impacted by it, it’s not a disaster. It’s just a situation that may or may not be in the headlines and will quickly be forgotten.

© StoneRoad 2014
A.Alex Fullick has over 17yrs experience working in Business Continuity and is the author of numerous books, including “Heads in the Sand” and “BIA: Building the Foundation for a Strong Business Continuity Program.”