Shake, Rattle and Roll-Natural Disasters; Asset preservation and business continuity


Enter at own risk

Disruptions due to natural phenomena are far more prevalent than many individuals and certainly companies are aware. For some inexplicable reason people appear to be unable to retain the frequency, probability, damage, disruption and location of natural disasters in comparison to other events such as terrorism or political unrest. Ask yourself, do you remember more details around the Union Carbide leak, the Exxon Valdez spill, World Trade Center attack or the Sichuan Quake, Myanmar Typhoon or PNG Tsunami which all singularly killed more people than the 3 prior events in total? It is perhaps due to the fact that many individuals and more concerning companies, relies on living memory to determine the planning requirements and probability of natural events. The impact and frequency however is far greater than that of most other business disruption events and catastrophic incidents.

Over the past few decades increasing numbers of the world’s population have migrated to the long-term cities and developing mega cities across the globe. It is in part the reason why in recent years the impact and devastation from natural disasters has become greater than that of years gone by. Additionally, one of the few consensuses by experts is that the predictability and probability of natural disasters is still an inexact science with far more research or study required. This has led to locations thought to be free of Mother Nature’s fierce reprisals suffering surprising events with often catastrophic outcomes. Further amplifying the affects of such unpredicted incidents has been the diverse and inconsistent building or development standards engaged as cities and communities increase their economic and infrastructure development. Tragically, the worst natural calamities in recent history has been where poor preparation and standards have met with moderate to extreme natural disasters that most likely would have had less impact had it hit those locations with the higher level of development and standards due to their acknowledgement that they are within the accepted area of natural disaster events.

The adoption of the term natural disaster is perhaps more applicable to man’s response and preparation to natural events. While a flood, fire, quake, eruption, wave and wind is not indicative of a disaster, it is often the inability of governments and companies to protect their assets in the wake of such events that determines the true scale of a disaster. The concentration of population, insufficient infrastructure, limited emergency procedures, poor emergency services provision, the potential for loss of life and suffering of affected communities along with extended duration of loss of acceptable living standards following the event all contribute to the overall formula for determining if a natural phenomena is indeed a disaster or calamity.

Planning and preparation for natural disasters is relatively simple when compared to other business disruption events. By using a threat-based approach and determining as many of the plausible outcomes (such as power failure, denied access to premises, stranded commuters, etc) planners discover that many of these events are similar if not common with other business disruption events albeit not occurring simultaneously. Identifying existing resources and required resources to mitigate or prevent negative outcomes is also a straightforward process. While the training and preparation of personnel is not that demanding it is important to ensure travelers and expats receive a more targeted and frequent training curriculum. The reason for this is that due to their business mobility requirements they may be exposed to a wider variety of natural phenomena than that of the fixed office location, therefore requiring a wider range of information and response knowledge. Furthermore, the level of support or footprint of disaster could be significantly wider in locations of their travel than that of their location of origin. They should also assume that a higher degree of self-assistance or vendor support will be required when traveling, especially in developing countries as the government response is often generic in application, non-commercially aligned, minimalistic in design and hampered by inter-agency communications and language barriers.

It is becoming increasingly paramount that businesses maintain and monitor  a higher level crisis management system such as at the country or regional level as many local offices are the first affected in such calamities and potentially unable to notify corporate support due to the failure of communication infrastructure. Similar planning consideration should be applied to travelers. This monitoring and surveillance should have both predictive and preventative intervention capabilities coupled with continuous activation and notification capacity. Businesses will also find that such systems result in business and operational efficiencies due to the elimination of false activations and failures in activation due to ill-perceived assumptions on whether or not the company had people, facilities, equipment or processes exposed. Moreover, such systems will be the governing factor for the time taken from identification to response and the ability to preserve assets or prevent loss of life, damage to other company assets or continuity of operations.

In the wake of the global economic challenges that are resulting in many governments even less capable of large scale emergency response, diminished safety and quality standards as well as a decrease in internal company resilience at a time when we continue to see an unprecedented change in climate, environmental hazards, fierce natural phenomena and multiple large scale incidents it is possibly more hazardous to people and property now than it has been in the past decade. Individuals should be reviewing their immediate action plans for such events, specific to each location of travel and companies should be reviewing or implementing consistent applicable training programs for those affected personnel and assets. All of these tactile preparedness measures are underpinned by a wider business resilience plan and allocation of resources.