The Constant Evolution of How We Manage Business Continuity – This Week in Business Continuity

I read an interesting post over the weekend that asks whether it’s time to rethink business continuity.  The headline and entire concept of the editorial are designed to generate traffic and there are probably a few too many acronyms but the writer has some great points.

  • The first line: “Business continuity professionals need to rethink some of the paradigms of the practice.”   More so than about any other industry, business continuity planning requires constant learning, constant reconsideration of standards and even a constant supply of a small amount of self-doubt.  I grew up in the shadow of Johnson Space Center and business continuity has always reminded me of those men and women with pocket protectors and horn-rimmed glasses.  If you don’t lose a little sleep at least every once in a while, you might not be doing it right.
  • “This is not a once and done process as many in the business continuity sphere seem to think (and practice).” I recently heard from a long-time colleague whose fairly sizable company has decided to overhaul their entire BC response schedule.  A little drastic perhaps but at least they’ll have the old plan to compare it to after the new plan is completed, and all of it will be a great learning experience.
  • “Difficulties arise when costs and benefits are not well defined and when intuition substitutes for analysis in the decision making process.” Truer words. This reminds me of a long series of post-Ike “first names only” (to encourage honesty and real learning) meetings I was involved in with Port of Houston and southeast Texas petroplex management staff about how each handled the ramp-up to the storm, its impact and the aftermath. My favorite quote from all 180+ of them: “We had a great plan but that plan went to hell the moment the eye wall hit the Seawall.”

For somebody like me, it’s a bit of a thick read but there’s lots of good stuff in there about what not to trust and he even includes this thought, “If we change our thought processes from chasing symptoms and ignoring consequences to recognizing the limitations of decision making under uncertainty we may find that the decisions we are making have more upside than downside.”  Good stuff.

***

We’ve scheduled our next Continuity Housing webinar for Wednesday, August 12th at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central and, as always, this will be a valuable use of your time.  Entitled “The State of Readiness in the Private Sector – A Train Wreck in 2015 . . . What That Means to You,” you can get the details and register here.

not-supposedThe presenter – someone who may be familiar to a lot of you by now – is Bo Mitchell, an expert in the creation and training of emergency action and business continuity plans and an extremely popular presenter, both live and online.  Bo served as the Police Commissioner of Wilton, CT for 16 years. He retired in February 2001 to found 911 Consulting which creates emergency, disaster recovery, business continuity, crisis communications and pandemic plans, plus training and exercises for major corporations like GE HQ, Hyatt HQ, MasterCard HQ, four colleges and universities and 25 secondary schools. He serves clients headquartered from Boston to L.A. working in their facilities from London to San Francisco. Bo has earned 20 certifications in homeland security, EM, DR, BC, safety and security. He also serves as an expert in landmark court cases nationally.

I asked him the other day how he got into the business of preparing people to survive and thrive after they get hit with the worst.  His answer was blunt.  Bo is always blunt, a tremendous asset in this business.  His answer: “When I was police commissioner and there was an emergency at a workplace, the top person would always lament, ‘This was not supposed to happen to me.’ I always reacted to that privately as, ‘Duh, why were you thinking like this?  We see this every day.  You have to prepare your employees for the emergency then get back to work.’ So when I retired, I determined that most businesses, campuses and healthcare facilities were not prepared and have never trained their employees. There was a mission and a market for me. The rest is history.”

I’ll share more about Bo and what he teaches over the next several weeks.  Hopefully we’ll see you on August 12th.

***

The next Association of Continuity Planners webinar is at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central on Wednesday, July 22nd and is called “Case Studies: Community Efforts to Enhance Workplace Preparedness for Bioterrorism,” a follow-up by Bio-Defense Network’s Harlan Dolgin to a popular session held in February when we addressed “Protecting your Workforce During a Public Health Emergency Through a Partnership with Local Public Health. (You can view the recording of that session here.)  Find out more about the topic and register for the July 22nd webinar here.

***

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.

What Prison Escapees and Lost Space Station Supply Ships Have In Common; Plus What We’re Stealing From Hotels These Days – This Week in Business Continuity

The two big stories of the weekend were the final end of the New York state prison escape and the dramatic loss of the third ISS resupply cargo ship in the last eight months.  Considering the alleged involvement of the two prison guards in the escape of the prisoners, that’s a story we’ll be hearing about for a long time to come.  The more important story, however, is the loss of the SpaceX cargo ship on Sunday morning; the three crewmembers have enough food and water through October but the string of failures in resupplying the station casts much greater doubt on its continued successful operation.

borrowingWhat does either situation have to do with business continuity?  Lots.  The considerable lockdown of the upstate New York area during the search for the prisoners reminds me of what happens a lot of times after a severe hurricane or terrorist attack: the National Guard and/or other authorities impose travel restrictions which in turn hamper the progress of employees trying to get back to work as well as roadway shipment of cargo, including resupply for companies that need new feedstock.  The supply ship explosion is a ready-made reminder that even with redundant backups, sometimes resupply will be hampered – although ‘hampered’ doesn’t seem nearly strong enough a word when you’re talking about spaceships delivering vital hardware and food to a space station.

Which is why you might want to consider adding the concept of tankering to your business continuity plan.  Tankering is an occasional commercial, military and corporate aviation practice of uploading more fuel than is required just for the next leg of the flight in case there’s a quality or availability issue with the jet fuel at the next destination, or if the fuel is much more expensive at the first destination than at the second one.  It can be a relatively expensive strategy: more fuel onboard means a heavier aircraft and reduced fuel efficiency.  It’s an expensive concept for industry, too – more raw materials mean greater risk, more required storage area, etc.  If possible, however, think downline and explore the possibility of ordering not only the resupply of your next required batch of whatever but also the batch you’ll need after that.  In the spirit of constantly borrowing business continuity concepts from industries other than the one you’re in, it’s worth considering.  Spread the risk.  Always.

***

Speaking of spreading the risk, here’s another way you’ve probably never considered doing so: with your housing.  Specifically, your desire to keep everyone under one roof if possible during a deployment, and the corresponding action of establishing a relationship with (only) one hotel to assist you when you activate your plan.  “That’s exactly the opposite of what actually works the best,” says Continuity Housing’s Michelle Lowther.  “For a company that typically selects one preferred supplier for each critical category in its supply chain, it may seem counterintuitive and even inefficient to spend time setting up relationships with several hotels.  But from a risk standpoint, it’s the only thing that makes sense.  With multiple hotels in your arsenal you spread your risk, making it much more likely that the hotels you’ve selected in advance will come through for you at crunch time.  Remember that for a hotel a room night is a perishable good, so outside of a formal housing program, there’s no guarantee that they’ll have a room available when you need it most.  A good rule of thumb is one hotel ‘in your pocket’ for every 10-15 rooms you’ll require.  That may seem like a lot, but if you ever have to put it to the test, you’ll be glad you did the work up front.”

***

Also speaking of preparing for a disaster, what about interruptions you never thought you or your company would have to deal with?  I asked some of Continuity Housing’s Global Account Executives to tell me about the last disaster, big or small, that they’d never planned on dealing with.

Stacey Sabiston’s was Tropical Storm Faye in Florida in 2008.  What’s unplanned about a hurricane in Florida?  “I moved here in 2007 and had heard about many of the big named hurricanes that had come through the state in 2004 and years prior.  When we bought our home it came with hurricane shutters, we bought the hurricane insurance, we bought the generator, etc. . . . the one thing we did not buy was flood insurance.  We don’t live on the water and we’re not in a flood plain so we didn’t see the need for it.  And then Tropical Storm Faye came and dumped 30 inches of rain in 3 days. [Note: Faye actually made landfall four separate times.]

Faye

Faye’s fairly annoying path. Graphic: Wikipedia

“It came down in buckets and never let up.  I have never seen anything like it.  We took the dog out for a walk and there were fish swimming down the streets.  It was the most bizarre slow moving storm I’d ever witnessed.  By the third day, the water had nowhere else to go and started creeping up toward the front door and back door of the house.  Since it wasn’t a hurricane, this type of damage would not have been covered by our hurricane insurance and since we did not have a separate flood policy, our homeowners wouldn’t cover it either.  We were panicked.  Fortunately the rain slowed down and the water receded, but it was a very scary experience.  Schools and businesses were closed for a week and there was lots of clean-up afterward.  I never thought a tropical storm could cause more damage than a hurricane until I moved to Florida.

“And yes,” Stacey says, “now we do have flood insurance, too!”

Account Executive Casey Judd shared his “never imagined that happening” experience which also involved the weather.   “A few weeks ago we actually had a funnel cloud in the small Idaho town that we live in and just across the border in Utah there were also funnel clouds. There were no tornadoes but even funnel clouds are really strange for us to get here.  It’s been an incredibly windy and rainy spring.  We actually had enough wind to blow down several trees in my neighborhood and take out part of my fence.”  Again, what’s so unusual about that?

“I did a little research and Idaho and Utah both average 2 tornadoes a year which is probably within the bottom 10 in the U.S. The last time someone was killed from one in Idaho was in 1936 so they are not something that we deal with seriously very often.”  Maybe not often but obviously not never.

Always at least consider the unimaginable or that which is very unlikely.  How would you respond?

***

The next Association of Contingency Planners webinar series presentation is scheduled for Wednesday, July 22nd at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central.  Entitled “Case Studies: Community Efforts to Enhance Workplace Preparedness for Bioterrorism,” this will be a presentation by Harlan Dolgin, JD, CBCP, co-owner of Bio-Defense Network and adjunct assistant professor of Business Continuity Management at Saint Louis University.

This session is a follow-up to a popular ACP webinar presented in February that addressed “Protecting your Workforce During a Public Health Emergency Through a Partnership with Local Public Health.” (You can watch that one here.) That session discussed the benefits of becoming a Closed Point of Dispensing (Closed POD) by partnering with your local health department, and provided details of this national program. This session will expand on that by reviewing the highlights of the Closed POD program and using case studies from successful implementations of the program.  During this session, attendees will learn:

  • A short review of the Closed POD program.
  • How employers can benefit from this free program.
  • How communities in Texas, Missouri, New York and California have successfully implemented this program.

Register even if you can’t attend the live presentation so that you automatically receive the link to the recording as well as the presentation slides.  The ACP webinar series is sponsored exclusively by Continuity Housing.

***

stealingHave you ever stolen anything from a hotel room you were staying in?  If not, you’re in the minority.  What are the most popular items to grow legs and walk out of a room?  According to this admittedly goofy ‘news’ segment from earlier this month, it’s toiletries, pads, pens, paper, slippers and key cards.  None of which explains the elegant Motel 6 lamp that’s on my desk.

Just kidding.

***

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.

Plan For Hidden Threats After A Disaster; Odd Storm Prep Behavior – This Week In Business Continuity

Over the last several weeks the general media has been describing the recent severe flooding across many parts of the central and southern U.S. with adjectives like ‘historic’ and ‘phenomenal.’  That’s debatable but it has been bad enough to cause considerable primary damage and destruction of property.  I say primary because now we’re beginning to see some of the after-effects of the original damage in the form of house fires caused by electrical problems brought on by the original flooding from the Memorial Day weekend storms.  Adding insult to injury, “The potential for fire after a flood can be traced to the wires, circuit panels, switches and outlets that were submerged in water.”

submerged-wiresWhen repairing, renovating or restoring your office, home, car or any other property after it’s been damaged in a similar event, never skimp.  Get the best, the bonded, the highest reviewed and consider what might be a higher repair cost to be an investment in the future.  And your peace of mind.

CenterPoint Energy has a great resource page full of links to storm-associated safety considerations to be aware of.  And while you’re at it, take a look at this fantastic and fairly short video about “Staying Alive When The Power Lines Come Downthat we produced last year and share it with anyone you care about.

***

In advance of that received considerable media coverage, city and county officials along the Texas Gulf Coast urged citizens to take the standard storm precautions, prepare for the potential of outages and to gather storm supplies while they may.  Gather they did, emptying some stores of bottled panic-shoppers-billwater, beer, bread, batteries and other items.  The relative panic was such that midway through a normal grocery shopping trip, a friend of mine had her half-full shopping cart ‘appropriated’ by another customer because there weren’t any carts left to use.  Unfortunately, after the storm had passed both the mayor of Houston and the Harris county judge poked fun at the overreaction, moves that probably won’t inspire much confidence in either of them the next time they send out the call for people to get ready for a tropical event.  To quote Houston Chronicle Science Editor Eric Berger from an article the other day, “Politicians don’t understand weather.“

The U.S. Census estimates that around 3,000 people move to the Houston area each month, although I’ve heard numbers that range closer to 10,000 per month.  Splitting the difference, that means that in the 81 months since (the neighborhood’s last significant tropical event) nearly 530,000 people have move to the area.

That’s a lot of newbies, and a lot of people within that group who’ve never experienced a tropical storm or its attendant media hype.  No wonder they over-reacted to news reports about an event that, for many of us, turned out being just a couple of fairly rainy days.

Human behavior.  Always remember to take that into account when you’re refining your company’s organizational response plan.  It’s the most difficult aspect to prepare for but definitely one of the most important.

***

We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the senseless church massacre in Charleston last Wednesday night.  Unfortunately such shootings continue to be an increasing reality in our lives.  If you didn’t attend either of the recent Association of Contingency Planners webinars on preparing for and responding to an active shooter, we’ve posted them for you to watch and share with anyone you’d like to.  Part one from April 7th is here and part two recorded last week is here.  The presenter is outstanding and both webinars are about as full as they possibly can be of useful information and instruction.

If you don’t have the time to watch both or either of the webinars, there’s also the much shorter video produced by the City of Houston in 2012 and it can be found here.

Our thoughts and heartfelt prayers continue to be with the families and friends of those killed and injured.

***

watch

Image: Apple

I don’t have one (yet?) but here’s another reason to consider getting one of the new smart watches: “Members of Marriott Rewards program who have purchased the Apple Watch will be able to use it globally to access check-in and check-out, get real-time room-ready alerts, view the nearest hotel and next reservation, and see rewards account details.”  Details are available here.  Starwood and Hilton worldwide are also rolling out similar watch-based amenities.  Yet another example of the best and brightest hotel chains providing guests with new and appealing options in an ever-competitive environment.

***

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.

17 Mistakes Organizations Make in Creating Their Emergency Plans & How to Correct Them – This Week in Business Continuity

Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon, the Aurora, CO theater shooting and Hurricane Sandy emphasize that emergency planning for your workplace can be a matter of life and death and such planning is subject to many federal, state and local laws, regulations and standards. Most who are tasked with creating and maintaining emergency plans are confused or overwhelmed regarding those standards.  Continuity Housing is hosting a one-hour webinar to address these issues next Wednesday, June 10th at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central.  Register here.

(As attendees of previous Continuity Housing webinars know, none of the webinars that we ever host either as part of the Association of Contingency Planners Webinar Series or separate from the ACP, is a sales pitch either for or by Continuity Housing or by the presenter or the company associated with the presenter.  Sure, we mention who we are and who they are and what we do but the presentations are always 96.4% free of advertising.  Approximately.)

register-buttonIn next week’s presentation, you’ll learn what laws, regulations and standards apply to your emergency planning, training and exercises and what a lawsuit will do to you if you don’t create a plan to standard. Learn the 17 mistakes organizations make in creating their plans and how to correct them.  Learning objectives for this presentation will include:

  • What are the laws, regulations and standards that control emergency plans?
  • How will lawsuits affect you and your organization?
  • What should be the overriding attitude for managers in re-evaluating current planning?
  • How can your own employees and clients hurt your response to a disaster?
  • What should you expect by way of help from local municipalities?
Presenter Bo Mitchell

Presenter Bo Mitchell

The presenter, Bo Mitchell, was Police Commissioner of Wilton, CT for 16 years. He retired in February 2001 to found 911 Consulting which creates emergency, disaster recovery, business continuity, crisis communications and pandemic plans, plus training and exercises for organizations like GE HQ, Hyatt HQ, MasterCard HQ, four colleges and universities plus 26 secondary schools. He serves clients headquartered from Boston to LA working in their facilities from London to San Francisco. Bo has earned 16 certifications in homeland security, EM, DR, BC, safety and security. He also serves as an expert in landmark court cases nationally.  Bo is a veteran presenter and the material he provides is fast-paced, engaging, informative and educational.  Register now to attend.

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But wait, there’s more.  Three more, to be specific.  The following ACP Webinar Series presentations will also take place this month.  Click the title links of each to find out more and to register.  All ACP webinars are free to attend and usually last from 40 minutes to an hour, (except for the ACP San Francisco Local Chapter meeting live simulcast which will run about two hours).  As always, if you can’t attend the live event, register anyway so that you receive the automatic follow-up email with the link to the recording that you can watch and share any time you want to.

  • The San Francisco Bay Area ACP Chapter Live Simulcast: Treasury Operations Recovery Planning next Tuesday, June 9th from Noon to 2:00 Pacific / 3:00 to 5:00 Eastern.  “Unplanned technology outages, data breaches and cyber-attacks are facts of life in the 21st century. If they strike your business, you’ll still need to pay employees and vendors, move and invest money, manage accounts and keep the treasury department running. These critical functions are crucial to your company’s survival and recovery. This will be a live simulcast of the ACP San Francisco Bay Area’s monthly chapter meeting.”  Also on the program, “CareerCorner: BC Careers. Access your Marketability, Formulate a Career Path and Always be Networking!”
  • Active Shooter in Your Workplace: Tactical Planning and Response will be on Tuesday, June 16th at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central.  (Note that this is a follow-up presentation to Active Shooter: How Do Your People Respond In Your Workplace which we hosted on April 7th, and which you can watch here, but that you do not need to have attended that webinar in order to benefit from this one.)  “DOJ, FBI and NYPD report that Active shooter incidents quadrupled in 2013-14 versus the previous five-year average. 70% of Active shooters are in workplaces versus campuses. Three people die and 3+ are injured in the average active shooter incident. Active shooters strike malls, high rises, healthcare and factories as well as campuses. Your response is dramatically different at each site. This webinar will turn very tactical. You will learn how to create plans and procedures and how to train your emergency team and rank-and-file employees.”
  • Getting the Most Value From Your Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Solution – a presentation by Rentsys Recovery Services – on Tuesday, June 23rd at 2:00 Eastern / 1:00 Central.  “When most organizations develop their business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) program, they only consider using the BC/DR solution during a disaster-related event. But as New Hampshire-based Service Credit Union demonstrates, taking a different approach can help you get the most value out of your BC/DR solution.  Join us to learn how, like Service Credit Union, you can get the greatest return on investment from your BC/DR solution.”

***

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.

What and HOW to Learn From the Gang Fight in Waco; More Tips for Contracting Deployment Housing – This Week in Business Continuity

"This is not a Waco problem. This is a nationwide problem because of the amount of activity that's involved in criminal activity with groups and organizations like this." – Sgt. Patrick Swanton, Waco Police Department Image: KTRK

“This is not a Waco problem. This is a nationwide problem because of the amount of activity that’s involved in criminal activity with groups and organizations like this.”
– Sgt. Patrick Swanton, Waco Police Department
Image: KTRK

Another week, another “What in the world???” moment.  Nine murdered, 170 arrested (bail for each one of whom was set at a million dollars), more than 100 cars stuck within the boundaries of the investigation scene and all of it spun out of control even though there were families eating inside the restaurant and pre-deployed law enforcement officers were standing right there.  The motorcycle gang fight in a mall parking lot in Waco on Sunday – a Sunday morning – reminds us that craziness can happen literally anywhere at any time.  As a business continuity professional and, even more importantly, as a person living through these times of ours as best you can, it behooves you to constantly improve on and update your overall survivability awareness.

fbi-permissionThe Red Cross, CERT and other federal agencies offer general safety courses but take the initiative and find out what local resources you can avail yourself of in order to increase your general odds of survival.  Such as the upcoming Association of Contingency Planners webinar, “Active Shooter in Your Workplace: Tactical Planning and Response,” a free, 45-minute webinar on Tuesday, June 16th at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central.  Register here.  The situation in Waco on Sunday wasn’t a classic active shooter situation but the event shared some characteristics with what can happen when one or more active shooters are involved.  Note that this is a follow-up webinar to a similar one that the same highly qualified presenter shared with us on April 7th and will actually include information that he had to get permission from the FBI to use.  You do not need to have attended that webinar to benefit from the upcoming webinar but you can watch the video of the April webinar here if you’d like to.

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Next on the roster of ACP webinars, however, is “Blast & Flood Zones, Terrorism and DDoS Attacks: New Elements of a Comprehensive DR Plan,” scheduled for this Tuesday, May 26th at 2:00 Eastern / 1:00 Central.  For more information and to register, go here.

***

The 2015 Secure360 conference took place in Minneapolis last week and those people know how to throw a show.  Billed as “The premier educational conference in the Upper Midwest for the information security and risk management industries,” our Michelle Lowther attended as a speaker and says that it was educational and well run, which is high praise from someone with a background in hospitality and convention management.  “The breakouts were refreshing, ranging from active shooter prevention and detection of insider threats to assessment of critical vendor resiliency,” says Lowther.  “The keynotes were especially good.  Ever see the movie Catch Me If You Can?  Our first keynote was the real Frank Abagnale’s insider’s take on identity theft.  Really good stuff.”

The conference was created by the Upper Midwest Security Alliance which was founded in 2004 with the goal to provide a “collaborative, multi-faceted conference” that “presents a unique opportunity to experience a national-quality conference without traveling to Orlando or Las Vegas.”

Our friends at Rentsys hosted a booth on the trade show floor, their third time to do so and according to account executive Mike Manchester, “Secure360 addresses a variety of security and risk management disciplines including Business Continuity, Information Systems Risk Management, Physical Security and Records Management. Being the premier educational conference in the Upper Midwest for the security and risk management industry, the over 800 attendees [of the show] have the opportunity to interact with vendors from the multiple disciplines during the unopposed exhibit hall periods.”  (Unopposed hall hours are a whole lot better than when show management schedules general and breakout sessions during show hours.)

If your organization is headquartered or has facilities in the general neighborhood, consider attending next year when the show will be in St. Paul on May 17th and 18th.  Mark a few months from now to check back to their website; they haven’t updated for 2016 registration yet.

***

This week in hotel booking contract terms to know: an extremely important one called “performance” which refers to the number of room nights that you actually consume in a continuity deployment versus the number that you contracted for ahead of time.  “For example,” says Continuity Housing principal Michelle Lowther, “50 rooms for three nights is 150 room nights.  Hotels allow a certain percentage of slippage (called attrition) in your contracts in the same way you see attrition referred to in the work force – jobs that are lost but not replaced in a certain company or industry.”

She continues, “The hotel industry standard for allowable attrition is between 10% and 20% and will vary based on market demand. Over the last couple of years the market in general has swung in favor of the hotels. They’re actually cancelling bookings now that were made four or five years ago when business was slower and hotels had to offer lower rates and less advantageous (to them) terms in order to book more profitable business as a replacement.  They’ve determined that the financial damages associated with canceling the contracts is acceptable given the higher revenue these new bookings represent  We’ll discuss cancellation at a later time but for now, performance.

“Why is performance vital to quantify?  If the hotel allows 20% attrition, you’ll be held to 80% of what you contract (or 120 room nights out of 150); that’s the minimum number you’d have to pay for.  If you consume 130 room nights, you pay for all 130; if you use 105 room nights, you still have to pay for 120 . . . but still a lot better than having to pay for, say, 140 room nights if you were only able to negotiate 10% attrition.  No one wants to pay for rooms they didn’t use, and there are ways to mitigate your damages if you find yourself in that situation.”  We’ll take a look at how to make that monster less scary next week.

***

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.

Severe Weather Dominating the News For A While Yet, and Another Hotel Contract Must-Have – This Week in Business Continuity

T.S. Ana. Radar image: WLTX

T.S. Ana. Radar image: WLTX

Revisiting a few topics from last week, tropical storm Ana made landfall Sunday morning as a fairly benign little rainmaker.  But it made landfall on Sunday.  May 10thQuiet season?  One storm.  That’s what we prepare for, every season.

***

From coast to coast, the U.S. is squarely in the middle of the usual severe springtime weather season as winter yields begrudgingly to summer.  The current cycle of bad weather is particularly brutal in the Plains States with north Texas being the recipient of the worst of it over the weekend.

I was associated with the weather forecasting industry for a while and severe springtime weather has always struck me as the most fickle and vengeful of the different types of natural causes of business disruption.  Here’s my subjective and really unscientific comparison.

  • tornadoesHurricanes and tropical storms: usually a fair amount of warning, at least a few days and often more than a week but the potential impact on vast regions of coastal and even inland populations can be devastating. Always be prepared.
  • Blizzards: generally a fair amount of warning although impact varies according to elevation and regional conditions but the aftermath can mean loss of power and the inability to even pull out of your driveway for weeks or more. Always be prepared.
  • Map: NOAA. Click to enlarge.

    Map: NOAA. Click to enlarge.

    Spring and fall severe weather, specifically tornadoes: medium-term generalized warnings, some immediately specific targeted warning with impacts that can range from hailstone videos to post on your Facebook page up to large swaths of entire communities erased from existence. Note that tornadoes occur on every continent except Antarctica but the vast majority of tornadoes occur in the U.S. with an average of 1,000 per year (see map; click to enlarge).  Canada is a distant second with about 100 a year. Always be prepared.

  • Earthquakes and volcanoes . . . when Mother Nature snaps: absolutely no warning ever. Potential damage can range from mildly annoying to utterly shattering.  Always be prepared.

I’ve lived in either earthquake or hurricane zones all my life, both of which I’ve experienced many, many times and neither of which I’m particularly afraid.  Tornadoes, however, scare the heck out of me because they’re rabidly surprising and vicious.  My heart goes out to those who live in Tornado Alley.  I honestly don’t know how they do it.  And my message and recurring theme, as always, is always be prepared.

***

Last week’s attack at the convention center in Garland, Texas has been discussed enough elsewhere but good business continuity professionals should note the secondary impact of the attack: the convention center was closed for several days afterwards while the investigation continued and many people were unable to even retrieve their cars from the adjacent parking lots.  Regardless of the nature of the disruption and even if your business isn’t directly impacted, a similar delay in restoration of operations could occur at any time.  If your organization’s business continuity doesn’t include contingencies for such a disruption, find out why and fix that.

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Hotel contracts can be obnoxious and confusing because they contain terms like guaranteed no-shows, cancellation, early departure, attrition and a dozen more that I won’t list because to many people they’re obnoxious and confusing.  Which is why last week we started a weekly series called Hotel Contract Must-Haves.  This week’s must-have is right of first refusal, a fussy-sounding concept that, if properly executed, can weigh heavily in your favor in any deployment housing contract.  (I always think of Lucy from Peanuts when I think of ROFR.)

Says Continuity Housing’s principal Michelle Lowther, “In a nutshell, when Continuity Housing executes a contract with a hotel for guaranteed rooms, our clients get dibs on those rooms in the event of a deployment unless they specifically release them back to the hotel in writing.  If there’s a major disruption that creates a substantial demand for rooms at their contracted hotel(s), the hotel(s) can give those rooms to other companies but only if they agree to let them do so.  This might happen if, say, their headquarters or other critical facilities weren’t impacted by an event such as a snowstorm that instead took a toll on a region adjacent to theirs.  It’s a great clause that lets our clients be nice corporate citizens without ever having to forfeit their own companies’ protection.”

Alas, there many variations on the adoption of properly inserted ROFR such as limitation of your length of stay and transferability, not to mention term and schedule of renegotiation.  But then that’s why Continuity Housing’s clients like us so much.  We don’t just take the headache of housing off of your plate . . . we make those contracts less obnoxious and confusing. 

Full disclosure: no one employed at Continuity Housing is an attorney and none of the services provided are meant to be construed as legal advice, however we are experts at sourcing and negotiating with hotels.  Any language in any contract you ever sign should always be carefully vetted by all parties involved.

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Don’t miss your last chance to register for a 25-minute ACP Webinar Series presentation, “The 2015 Atlantic Tropical Season Outlook,” this Thursday, May 14th at 10:30 Central to hear what THE hurricane expert – Chris Hebert, lead hurricane forecaster for StormGeo, Inc. – thinks we can expect from the coming hurricane season.  Register here now.  Space is limited and remember to register even if you can’t attend the live event so that you automatically receive the follow-up email with the link to the recording of the webinar.

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Finally, last week we also discussed the fact that Continuity Housing works hand in hand with ConferenceDirect and their $700+ million in annual buying power with hotels, exclusive hotel contract terms and an impeccable reputation in the hospitality industry.  Another reason ConferenceDirect is such a positive influence on the hotel and planning industry is their commitment to the goal of educating their clients worldwide on industry trends, technology and other critical leadership and management skills that will support them in saving their organization time and money while better serving the constituents their clients are responsible for (i.e., you).  Which is why at CDX San Diego this September in San Diego will feature Nick Tasler, Best-Selling Author of “Why Quitters Win: Decide to Be Excellent.” According to materials describing the event, “The book shares an imperative message about maintaining focus on the important items that will serve your organization in meeting its goals and not being afraid to walk away from the ones that don’t.”

Which reminds me of the brilliant Michael Jordan quote: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”

CDX, by the way, is ConferenceDirect’s exclusive series of educational events for their top customers, associates and partners.  You very probably aren’t eligible to attend but we are and we do and that’s a good thing for you.

Have a great week, even if you fail a little.

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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.

Working From Home = Disaster Recovery? Think Again . . . & the Civil Unrest Webinar You Missed – This Week in Business Continuity

There’s a reason I post so often about the webinar series that the Association of Contingency Planners hosts for anyone who wants to attend them and at no charge.  It’s because the topics and presenters and content are all outstanding.  Last week’s was no exception.  Presented by Steve Crimando, principal of Behavioral Science Applications, the topic was “Business Continuity in Times of Civil Unrest” and you can watch the whole thing on YouTube here.  Sure, it runs an hour and 24 minutes which is twice as long as most of the presentations in the series.  But it ranks among the best, most educational and genuinely interesting presentations since the series began five years ago.  The reviews from the post-presentation survey were outstanding and enthusiastic and we’ll definitely have Steve back soon.

Steve Crimando

Steve Crimando

Why watch a business video that’s so long?  This one, like so many of the others in the series, most definitely falls into the category of “stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know” and, as we prefer be the case with each of these webinars, it covers a range of material that you can apply not only to your company’s business continuity strategy but to your own life and lifestyle as well.  For example, did you know that depending on the type of crowd you might find yourself in – whether by choice or by coincidence – escalation from passivity and even celebration to a scenario of chaos can happen very, very quickly?  Or that it just takes five people on one side of you and a wall on the other to possibly result in severe injury or worse?  Still not convinced?  Check out Steve’s bona fides.  He knows and he’s a great presenter.  In fact, he the same material before a live audience the very next day, as was reported in this interesting and very informative article.

Watch it.  Even if you have to do so in stages over a period of days.  It’s the kind of information that you’ll want to share with your coworkers and probably even your family.

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More companies are starting to build telework / work-from-home tactics into their overall BC/DR strategies and that might not be a good idea according to this great article because:

  • Landlines are required to work for at least 24 hours after a power outage occurs but there’s no requirement that service be maintained in such a situation for cell service, VOIP, DSL or other internet connection.
  • If the power goes out at the employee’s home(s), how will they charge their cell phones or laptops? Ditto their modem or wifi router.
  • Post-incident, unsecured bandwidth capabilities, especially in residential areas, will be strained, slowed or even unavailable altogether.

I’ll add one: how many of us even have landlines at home anymore?  Anecdotally (and therefore 100% statistically invalid), I was one of the last of the holdouts in my little circle but finally ditched my beloved (since 1982) landline early last year.  I’d had it since 1982 and I missed it horribly . . . for about a week. But I also well remember the last time we had a sustained power outage after Ike when I thought, with all the modesty and humility I could summon, “Ahhh ha haaaaaa!  They all have their cell phones but the cell towers don’t have power and within a few hours none of their phones will either!  But wise me has held on to my landline – and I don’t much regret having paid more than $300 a year for the privilege – so I and I alone will be able to make calls from home!”  Key word: alone.  A few nights into the blackout I remember the thrill of hearing the old-school dial tone emanate from my landline handset and then realizing that I couldn’t call . . . almost anybody.  Because all their cell phones were dead.

Granted, your setup might be different if you have tiny ones at home or a home alarm system tied to your landline, but if having key personnel work from home is a key or even partial element of your recovery strategy either reconsider or make darn sure that the required infrastructure is intact at each of their homes.

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Finally, this past Monday was the five-year anniversary of the initial Deepwater Horizon explosion which killed 11 crew members and injured 17.  The explosion also caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history and it took crews nearly three months to finally cap the damaged seabed wellhead.  The event is marked in the minds of many of us but it’s particularly memorable for the deployment team at Continuity Housing.  According to principal Michelle Lowther, “In hindsight and with the greatest respect to those who lost their lives or loved ones and to those who were injured, it was both the best and worst professional experience we’ve ever had.  The worst because of the heartbreaking tragedy of the crew and the calamity of the spill but the best from a professional standpoint considering the service we were able to provide crews from all over the world who were deployed to assist in containment, cleanup and remediation.

95000Continuity Housing provided over 95,000 room nights to all kinds of response companies and agencies. At the peak of the response we had more than 100 hotels under contract, we assisted thousands of responders from Texas to Florida with their housing needs, and the full span of our involvement ran more than four years.  So nothing close to a typical deployment.  The contract clauses we crafted to address the unique and fluid nature of this response have become our ‘go-to’ best practice clauses that we now incorporate into all of our clients’ hotel contracts.”  If you’ve ever been on the front lines of a mid- to large-scale response, you know exactly what Lowther means when she says, “An experience like that one makes you or breaks you in this industry.  When you’re in it, it’s hard to see because it’s all about getting the next piece done and there’s always, always a next piece.  Then once it’s over and you have the benefit of hindsight and sleep, you see the way people came together from across disciplines and without ego to support each other and the overall effort.  It was extraordinary.”

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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.

This Week In Business Continuity: New, Potentially Dangerous Wifi Hack Risk for Hotels, Guests; Free Active Shooter Response Webinar

Word’s been getting around for the last several days about the potential for wifi hacks at hotels and convention centers around the world that could have a serious impact not only on hotel property operations but also on individual guests.  This article explains the situation in comprehensive detail with a good deal of technical language but here are the basics:

  • HamasIt’s a very serious threat for wifi users at many hotels and conference centers that use a particular brand of wifi router in the U.S., U.K., Europe, Singapore, the U.A.E. and elsewhere.
  • The threat to property networks mostly affects the ability of hackers to potentially access the property management system which operates different aspects of the facility, manages room and material goods inventories . . . plus codes the room access key cards and manages individual guest payments. The threat to guests’ computers is more generalized and typical: you think you’re on a safe wifi network but you’re not and your files and computer are both subject to unauthorized access, corruption, etc.
  • The potential damage to both guests and hotel property management systems – including the ability for hackers to reprogram key card access thus allowing illegal entry into guest rooms – is significant.
  • How to protect yourself? When you book regular travel, find out if the individual property you plan on visiting uses the particular types of routers mentioned here, several models of InnGate routers made by Singapore’s ANTlabs.  If you can’t find out or don’t have a choice on where to stay, limit your exposure by limiting your access.  Better safe than sorry.  And always, always use all three door locks when you’re in your room, report anything suspicious and don’t ever enter your room if you suspect something is amiss.
  • At the very end of the article, you’ll see that the router manufacturer released a patch last Thursday – which I found here – to hopefully fix the issue.

The chances that you’ll be affected by the issue before the issue is corrected is fairly remote but still – reprogramming key cards to allow illegal access into your room?  It gets your attention.

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The next Association of Contingency Planners Webinar Series Blog is An ACP Webinar – Active Shooter: How Do Your People Respond In Your Workplace?” on Tuesday, April 7th at 11:30 Eastern, 10:30 Central.  As always, these webinars are educational, interesting, relatively short, free and you don’t have to be a member of ACP to attend.  For more information and to register click here.  Register even if you can’t attend so that you’ll receive the link to the recorded version afterward.

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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.

This Week In Business Continuity: Hack Prevention Follow-Up, Ditching Daylight Savings and Lots of Great Webinars

What I posted last week warning about the need to include a comprehensive, proactive plan for minimizing a business disruption as the result of your system getting hacked – regardless of what business you’re in – generated the most feedback I’ve ever received on a topic.  The best one by far was a comment in the ACP LinkedIn professional group from Dr. Ed Goldberg.  Many readers will recognize the name since I’ve mentioned Ed before and with good reason:  he’s CBCP stock, an ACP member and former national board member, Manager, Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery and Threat Assessment at Eversource (formerly Northeast Utilities) and he’s on the adjunct faculty at Capella University.  I.e., he knows a bit.  His input?

“Fred wrote ‘It’s a good reminder to start or refine your continuity plans relevant to a possible hack because it can happen to any company without any warning and, seemingly, without any cause.’  Sage advice, but I’d go a step further: Assume you’re going to get hacked.  Assume it’s inevitable.  THEN put a plan together to deal with the resulting issues, required notifications, cost of making clients whole, managing reputation, etc.  It’s a LOT to do in a very short time, all the while under the media microscope.  And there’s no way to plan it and do it after a breach/hack.  Some of it is basic – sending a letter to each of your clients potentially affected by a breach.  Who has the capacity to print and mail letters to all of their customers?  Might need to arrange for a 3rd party’s help for some or many of those action items post-breach.  Bottom line is that we see the Sony-like breaches all the time, and we tend to focus on prevention.  Well, they probably all had and have good IT people, good cyber security practices, etc.  If someone is bound and determined to hack your organization, they’ll succeed. Plan as it is inevitable!”

This is a no-brainer but few people think about it enough to take a few simple precautions that could prevent some major, even very costly, hassles.  Because computers?  They make our lives so much easier.

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online-griefOn a related topic, be careful how and where you wifi when you’re traveling for business and any time that you’re not at home or at the office.  For starters, accidental online grief is much more likely when you’re logged in to unsecured connections.  ConferenceDirect recently posted about what harm your laptop and/or entire IT system might suffer but also, quite neighborly, included tips on how to avoid the problem altogether.  Make “safe wifi” a part of your business continuity planning by educating your potential deployees – and all employees, for that matter – about the dangers of browsing around unprotected, especially while concurrently doing business.  Firmly impress upon them that their digital security practices are a vital part of the company’s digital safety net.

And of course never, ever enter your personal or corporate credit or debit card number to buy something online while you’re outside of a network that you aren’t 100% certain is secure.

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In other news of IT in peril, a relatively recent survey claims that the cost of a full IT outage caused by a denial-of-service (DOS) attack averages around $5,600/minute which, according to math, translates to $336,000 per hour.  Keep in mind that this is an average and that the cost varies widely in each direction and from company to company.  Also note that this was a private study which is being publicized by a company that specializes in preventing DOS-style threats.  Interpret accordingly but either way, that’s a huge potential loss.

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Texas, ever willing to buck national trends, wants to ditch Daylight Saving Time.  (Yeah, the missing ‘s’ has always bugged me, too.)  State Rep. Dan Flynn of Canton introduced the bill last week and it’s currently in committee.  Why get rid of it?  A number of studies have indicated the increase in traffic accidents, migraines, general unpleasantness and even heart attacks in the days following the bi-annual time change.  I watched an interview with Flynn wherein he described having asked people for their input over the last several years (the vast majority were against the constant time changes) and he put to rest the idea that the farm and ranch communities were big proponents of keeping the practice intact citing that milk production at dairy farms actual decreases for a short period following each time change.

If the bill is passed and signed into law by newly-minted Governor Abbott, Texas would stay on the current schedule and simply not set clocks back during the next time change in November.  The coveted “extra hour of evening daylight” would remain in place during the summer hours but Texans will have to get used to darkness persisting into the mornings during the mid-winter months.  The only argument I’ve heard for keeping DST is that getting rid of it would put the state out of synch with the rest of the country, although Hawaii and Arizona opted out of the practice a while back and they seem to be doing fine.  What do you think?  Is there really any value to keeping DST in place in this day and age?

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Here’s the updated (today!) list of upcoming ACP webinars that you should attend, all of which will be educational, informative, free, in most cases entertaining and 96.7% free of any advertising.  You do not need to be an Association of Contingency Planners member to register and if you can’t attend but want to see the webinar, register so that you receive a one-time follow-up that has the link to the recording.  A synopses of each webinar is available on each of the respective registration pages:

  • “The Threats We Face” at 11:00 Eastern on Thursday, March 26. More information and to register.
  • “Active Shooter – How Do Your People Respond in Your Workplace?” at 11:30 Eastern on Tuesday, April 7. Info and register.
  • “Business Continuity in Times of Civil Unrest” at noon Eastern on Wednesday, April 15. Info and register.

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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.

Business Continuity: What’s Your Elevator Speech? Also: BC Webinar Lineup Announced

If you work in business continuity, chances are that even your spouse doesn’t fully understand what you do for a living.  In a previous life, I worked for an international corporate aviation service management provider and my family and friends didn’t understand what I did back then, either.  Raise your hand if you know what it feels like to be Chandler on Friends.

A while back we posted about $#@! business continuity people say and there was a common thread in the majority of the responses which can be summed up by the following:

face-palm

Which makes me wonder if there’s a similar theme in the more common elevator speeches about what our profession encompasses.  So what’s your elevator speech?  Continuity Housing’s tagline runs at the bottom of this posting but it contains some BC-specific jargon that most of us probably strive to avoid when we’re trying to explain what we do to, say, a doctor or an architect.  So mine goes like this: “If anything makes a business temporarily close, there’s a good chance they’ll never reopen and a huge chance that if they do, they’ll fail within two years.  We help ensure that our clients don’t ever have to close.”

Oh.

temporarily-closeAbout a quarter of the time, they’re interested (or just polite?) enough to ask a few questions and most non-BC/DR people are surprised to learn how perilous even a temporary suspension of operations can be for the company and, most importantly, for the employees.  No company, no job.

Share how you handle this situation.  We might all snag an “ah-ha” moment out of it and walk away with a somewhat easier way of describing our mildly indescribable realities.

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Click to play. Opens on YouTube.

Click to play. Opens on YouTube.

In preparation for this posting, we wondered if there was an easier way to define what we do very quickly.  So we came up with this (same as the link to the left).  Take a look and let me know if we were successful.  And be blunt.  Blunt is good when it comes to refining better ways of describing what we do and how we do it.  Not just to our family and friends but sometimes even to the board and stakeholders.

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The 2015 schedule for the webinar series that Continuity Housing sponsors for the Association of Contingency Planners is shaping up and here’s a sneak peek at what to expect over the next several months.  We’ll make sure that the registration links are available as soon as possible and way in advance of each presentation.

  • March 26: Another great presentation by the Business Continuity Institute. Specifics will be announced very soon, hopefully this week.
  • April 7th: “Active Shooter: How Do Your People Respond In Your Workplace?”
  • May, date TBD: a Rentsys presentation, “The Value of Business Loss Insurance.”

In addition to these, on May 14th, Continuity Housing will host Chris Hebert, lead hurricane forecaster at ImpactWeather, with the “2015 Atlantic Tropical Season Outlook.”  Cold as it is for many of us now, it’s time to start thinking about the tropical season.  (You know you work in business continuity when normal annual milestones like birthdays and major holidays get replaced by seasonal threat prep deadlines.)

Have an idea for a business continuity webinar or a topic that you’d like to present yourself . . . or you just want to make sure you’re on the list to receive notification of upcoming webinars and links to register?  Send me an email.  And have a great 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.