This Week In Business Continuity: Truly Productive Cross-Industry Collaboration; Mitigating Calamity With Clever Architecture

Based in Atlanta, the Southeast Business Recovery Exchange (SEBRE) was founded as “a nonprofit organization that promotes the interaction of persons involved in, or responsible for, business continuity planning/disaster recovery in their respective organizations.” The group meets twice a year, once in Atlanta and once in some other southeastern city, to discuss real business continuity strategies, lessons learned and ideas.  Interestingly and constructively, companies that sell BC/DR solutions aren’t eligible for membership but representatives from such companies are occasionally invited to speak, and at the meeting a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta, Continuity Housing principal Michelle Lowther was that fortunate individual.  Full disclosure: in exchange for the honor, Michelle got to treat the entire group to dinner.

membershipSays Michelle, “I went because it’s a targeted group of leaders and because of the timeliness of this meeting of companies in the southeastern U.S. as hurricane season approaches.  SEBRE’s mission dovetails very well with Continuity Housing’s services and our overall philosophy that a continuity plan is never done – there’s always something that can be added or enhanced to make it stronger and make your company that much more resilient.

“Membership is limited to just 30 representatives from different types of industries, about half of which are financial companies, which is good because that’s designed to foster the exchange of real ideas and the most creative ideas in strategy innovation.  These are senior level, decision-making, empowered individuals [take a look at their executive committee at the bottom of their website] and most have been members for a long time.  They follow the Chatham House Rule, a great idea for the purposes of this type of group, so I wasn’t privy to any of their meetings except for my presentation.  They asked a lot of questions about the details and how they could apply Continuity Housing’s principles to their own specific circumstances.  I love it when a presentation evolves into an interactive discussion and think that’s the best case scenario for attendees in that it yields a more interesting and productive exchange where everyone takes home at least a couple of good nuggets.”

The SEBRE meeting format reminds me of a series of post-Ike meetings I was involved in coordinating that included more than 180 individuals (we met in small groups over a series of weeks) from companies in a wide variety of industries, all of which had been severely impacted by the storm.   What could the VP BCP of a financial organization learn from the manager of a petrochemical plant about business continuity?  A whole lot.  One example: during a wide-scale emergency, National Guard units in different states have different ideas about what constitutes “private property” when it comes to things like generators and potable water.  I’ve had plant operators look me in the eye and tell me that they have to hide everything from generators to televisions so that they don’t get ‘borrowed’ by National Guard troops and several instances when such items were appropriated “for the sake of public safety.”

As always, the goal with such meetings is to find out what works in business continuity and, more importantly, what was supposed to work last time but didn’t.  Trust and a clearly stated understanding that open communication is mutually beneficial combine to go a long way towards generating solutions that can help everyone out next time.

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The American Institute of Architects Houston chapter offers an outstanding series of regularly scheduled walking tours and two weeks ago I, along with a dozen or so other folks, mostly tourists, went on the one that focuses on the Texas Medical Center.  Why?  For the same reason I went on the boat tour of the Houston Ship Channel last summer: because I thought I might learn something valuable about better business continuity planning overall.  The walking tour was outstanding, lasted three hours, spanned about a 2 ½-mile route and required a short hop on the METRO rail that runs through the middle of the huge Med Center complex.

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Fancy pedestrian traffic dividers (on the left)? Nope. Rotating flood locks. Click to see full size.

The most fascinating part of the tour was learning about how architects were able to, in most cases, elegantly incorporate flood-abatement mechanisms into the structures – sometimes decades after construction of the individual buildings were completed – following the disastrous blow that the Medical Center suffered as a result of tropical storm Allison.  Something else we learned is how incredibly obsolete most of the older (circa 1945 to 1990) buildings are for use as medical facilities simply because of the modern IT and air circulation infrastructure demands.  Back in the day, each floor was only 12 to 16 feet in height because the space between floors was so short, maybe a foot of two, whereas today the average overall height of each and every floor runs about 21 feet with a full five-foot crawl space between each floor to house all the additional wiring, medical supply tubing and a/c mechanisms.  Analyses of utility are constantly in motion: whether to tear an older building down and replace it with something more modern and usually taller or convert it to an office building or teaching facility.  (At any given time, more than 5,000 physicians are in training somewhere in the complex.)

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Same flood gates at the top of the steps but the pretty ground-floor panels to the right surround the building and are also interlocking flood gates. Other types of gates include humongous round submarine-style pressure-lock doors. Location: Michael E. DeBakey Library/Museum.

Another interesting point is that although many modern buildings are now being built to LEED standard, few companies are interested in actually obtaining actual LEED certification because it’s so cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive to do so.  And if companies can say their buildings have been built to LEED standard without spending the time, energy and money required for the actual certification, isn’t that the best of both worlds?  Juxtapose that against the value of obtaining a CBCP, MCP or similar accreditation owing to the genuine value of those certifications.  The LEED issue reminds me of a decision we faced at Continuity Housing about whether or not to obtain accreditation as a woman-owned business.  Ultimately, the potential value and benefits didn’t justify the cost and hoop jumping.  The logo and certificate are nice but neither enhances our services, our reputation or the value we bring to our clients.

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Source: iStock.

You know those cringe-worthy stock photos you see of enthused, engaged, almost outright tickled-pink-to-be-there corporate employees in meetings that you see on company websites and in print materials?  You may have heard that actor Vince Vaughn starred in his own set of similarly awkward stock photos over the last few weeks as part of a marketing campaign for the movie Unfinished Business.  (I was going to include a link to the trailer but then I remembered a lot of you might be in the office right now.)  It’s outstanding marketing because they generated a huge amount of free buzz (guilty as charged) by commandeering a mildly humdrum private media resource that actually dovetails the theme of the movie.  We like Vince Vaughn so we started kicking ideas around for captions to the different photos in the series.  We particularly liked this one: “It’s a phone tree, people.  Ugh!  I can’t believe they think that’s a continuity plan.  Look how excited they are!  Are they serious with this?  I’m going to have to kick it up a notch, and I know just the way to do it . . .”  Take a look at this one and share your funniest caption with us.  We’ll run them next week.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog (in sidebar at right) and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  To subscribe to our mailing list and/or if you’d like a free 30-minute planning session, let us know.

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