Double Trouble: How to Handle Multiple Business Disruptions

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The events of the past couple of weeks have shown that modern organizations need to be prepared to cope with more than one disruption at a time. In today’s post, we’ll look at four steps you can take to make sure your company will be ready if and when it is struck simultaneously by multiple disasters.

 

 

Pandemic and Protests

The past couple of weeks have seen a confluence of events in the country that will go into the history books.

In the beginning we had the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down large swaths of the economy and sent millions of people to work from home. Then came the events that followed the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, including peaceful demonstrations, incidents of looting and destruction, and conflicts between citizens and the police.

Both of these situations impacted business—and many businesses were hit hard by both. Add in the impact of rising unemployment and uncertainties about the economy, and you could describe the overall situation for business as not just double trouble but triple trouble.

These piggyback challenges have pushed the business continuity programs at many organizations to the limit.

Many companies are not prepared to handle even one serious disruption. Hit them with two or three at once, and the results can ugly.

Business continuity planners used to assume they would only face one serious disruption at a time. This is no longer a safe assumption.

 

The New Reality Requires a New Approach

Many trends are increasing the odds that businesses might be faced with multiple simultaneous disruptions. Bigger organizations, far-flung supply chains, the rising threat from pathogens, climate change, the pervasiveness of social media, and social divisions and unrest all increase the chances that a company could be hit by numerous disasters at the same time.

This is an area where corporate America could benefit from taking a page from the U.S. Army’s book. The Pentagon continually makes and updates plans to address conflicts on multiple fronts at the same time. Military planners know they might not have the luxury of focusing all their energy on one opponent.

What’s that old saying—when it rains, it pours?

It was true in World War II when the U.S. had to fight wars on two fronts while simultaneously coping with food shortages, rationing, and curfews on the home front at the same time.

It was true for many businesses over the past couple of weeks, when they found themselves contending simultaneously with the impacts of COVID-19 and the disruption of their corporate facilities and neighborhoods caused by increasing civil unrest.

In a post a couple years ago, I noted that in the future companies would look to move critical operations to less dense urban centers if possible, to minimize their exposure to the threats that typically impact high-profile cities.

 

How to Handle Multiple Disruptions

In today’s interconnected world, we must ensure our programs are capable of dealing with multiple simultaneous disruptions. This is what we have been telling our customers, and I would advise readers of the blog the same way.

The key thing you have to change is your mindset.

Here are four additional things a company can do to help ensure that its BCM program is up to the challenge of managing two or more disruptions at one time:

1. Make your crisis management team highly adaptable.

The CM team must be prepared to deal with multiple disruptions at the same time. The members and leader should be chosen with an eye toward the possibility that this might occur. They should be people who are capable of maintaining broad situational awareness in the face of intense confusion and high pressure. The CM team should also receive training in handling simultaneous events, including participating in mock disaster exercises that simulate it.

2. Establish a centralized nerve center.

Every mid-sized and large organization should have a nerve center (sometimes called a fusion center). This is separate from any crisis management teams that are in operation. The nerve center is a place where events at the organization are managed and monitored at a high level. The nerve center tracks what’s happening all across the organization with regard to security, technology, and operations. The nerve center receives real-time information from across the organization and is the place where the overall response to a situation of simultaneous emergencies can be coordinated and managed. See this post for more on fusion centers.

3. Create a resilient technology platform.

The goal here is to have technology that is self-healing. Whatever the disruption, you need your technology to be up. Whether your platform is cloud-based or resides in a data center, you want to get to the point where if a piece fails, it will automatically failover and you will suffer zero disruptions.

4. Diversify your operations.

Spread everybody out. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The pandemic has driven home how important this is. An example of a diversification strategy that might make sense for many companies moving forward is having fifty percent of a department’s workforce in the building and fifty percent working from home. Another strategy would be distributing the employees for a key facility, such as a claim center, at various places across the country.

 

Summing Up

Recent events have driven home the fact that an organization that is only prepared to handle one disaster at a time is in a vulnerable position. Recent trends have led to an increase in the possibility that an organization might be hit by simultaneous disruptions. To increase your company’s resilience, make your crisis management team more adaptable, establish a nerve center, create a resilient technology platform, and diversify your operations.

 

Further Reading

For more information on handling multiple disasters, crisis management and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

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BCM during the COVID pandemic