Blue Skies, Black Swans and Backup Plans


As Hurricane Irene passes through lower Manhattan, there is  a tinge of panic but not the full-on disaster that has been expected. Wall  Street will be a bit mussed up, but open for business on Monday. For many in
New Jersey and Pennsylvania this was the disaster of a lifeline, the airlines and  passengers have taken a very painful punch, but for the rest of the country it  was certainly less of a disaster than was expected. Over the next few weeks, we  can expect to hear the Democrats say that Obama was swift to act and preventative
measures were effective. Likewise, you can expect the Republicans to say that Obama
spent money he doesn’t have too freely and they will undoubtedly pick out  individual cases of incompetence, corruption or just plain stupidity. And of  course, there will be much comparison of the Bush Hurricane (Katrina) vs. the  Obama Hurricane (Irene). But in the end, the message that matters is… disasters  happen, and when they do you will be much better off if you have a plan!

What were your plans for the last disaster… what about the next  one? Do you have a disaster plan? What about a backup center? Do you know what plans  your firm has in place, and… dare I ask?… have you ever rehearsed your plans  with your staff? By the time you read this the sky will be clearing, and everyone  will be letting out a sigh of relief. This is a good time to look at where your  system showed weakness. Maybe something ALMOST collapsed, maybe it just came  close. However, learn from this and figure out some fixes. When you do examine your operation, look at it in terms of these three issues:

  • Site:  Even if Hurricane Irene didn’t blow away your building, your work site might be  inaccessible because all the roads around you are closed, even if they aren’t  flooded. However, your basement could be flooded, or a small fire may have gotten out of control because the fire department couldn’t get to your site, or
    salt water might have gotten into equipment or blown out power in your area. Other  very localized disasters, such as an exploding water or power line, may prevent  you from getting to your work site. If there was asbestos in or around the conduits,  it could increase the time that your site is inaccessible. Whatever your
    disaster planning, what is the length of time that you assume your site is
    inaccessible… a day, a week , a month? What sort of disasters does this cover?
    Do you have a backup site to send your workers to? How often do you test that
    this site is still working?
  • Staff: A plan for your work site is great, but what about your workers? Even if there  is power at work, what if the disaster hit before everyone got into the office.
    If you have multiple shifts, how does the NEXT shift get to work?  Some outsourcing firms will offer to keep  workers onsite, and have power, food even cots to sleep on. This is great for a  disaster that last up to a day, but after that… not only will you have a very  tired, very stressed (and therefore error prone) team but eventually even the  most dedicated team s going to start worrying about children, spouses and  parents. If a disaster lasts for days, you are going to be very disappointed if  the plan is that staff will stay at work for that long. Alternatively, if the  disaster is as simple as a prolonged transit strike, does your plan provide a way to get staff to your work site?
  • Sources:  If you have a place to work and workers, the only remaining thing to work about is your sources of input for your work. This probably includes some sort of data feeds and internet connections. It may also include telephone access. Other things you may need could be access to your clients. Do you speak to them over the phone, via email or MUST you work in person with them… a big problem if you and your clients are no longer working at the same location. Do you consume physical resources, such as paper, and how much do you have on hand?

Once you are comfortable that you are getting the right answers for these three categories, there is one other factor you should consider. When an event or trend happens that is completely unexpected (or is the opposite of what should happen), it’s often called a “Black Swan”. Since all the swans you see are white, the next swan you expect to see white. You might see (and ignore) a white swan that is off-white or has a small patch of color, but the swan you don’t expect is completely black… clever, right? One of the reasons that we’re
seeing so many Black Swans, why the news is full of unprecedented and unexpected changes, is that our perspective has changed from very local to very global. Years ago one of the most memorable (and parodied) covers from The New Yorker magazine showed a “global” map with Manhattan’s 9th and 10th Avenue covering half the cover, New Jersey to the Pacific ocean covering another third, and the last sliver of the page showing the rest of the world. Change the map slightly, and that’s the way most of us used to think of the world. Used to. Now, we’re all working in a global world and we need to think globally.
Some of the bizarre things we see on the global stage are as strange to the locals as to us. I remember a few years ago that a ship in Egypt dropped its anchor and cut not one but TWO of the world’s most heavily used fiber-optic lines. Of course, some of the things we think are bizarre are perfectly normal to the locals. Did you know that in Australia, more swans are black than white?

Wherever you work and wherever your backup site, make sure that you have a plan for the site, your staff and the sources you need to do your work. Keep dry, and that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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This entry was posted in Backup Plans, Common Sense Contracting, Decision Making, Delivering Services and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Blue Skies, Black Swans and Backup Plans

  1. Hallie says:

    A wonderful job. Super helpful ifnoramtion.

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