I battled Hurricane Harvey . . . and lost.

Well, it’s been a long while since I have posted . . . anything!  Sorry for being MIA.  The past few years have been kinda crazy.   And the past six months have been even crazier.

For many years, I’ve helped organizations, both large and small, prepare for natural disasters.  But, this is the first time I had to prepare my family for a disaster.  In the early morning hours on September 24th (a few days before Hurricane Harvey was due to hit Houston) I packed up the car and drove my three young girls out of harms way to my dad’s house outside of Austin.  My husband stayed behind to help prepare our home for the storm.

I was able to continue running my business (which is part of my contingency plan!) and my girls were safe and sound.  All the time, I was thinking, we got this. We won’t flood.  Our house was built in 1954 and really never flooded.  They were making improvements along the Bayou and the Medical Center (close to where we live) had rebuilt itself better and stronger after our last major tropical storm.

And then we flooded.  Harvey blew in almost 50″ of rain over a 3-day period – drenching most of Houston and the surrounding counties.  It was a mess.  And our home was destroyed in those few, short days.

We lost most everything, including quite a bit of memorialbilia.  That hurt the most.  The clean up process was beyond tedious, but we had help from neighbors, friends and family . . . and a few strangers.  For the past five months, we have thought and re-thought about what we should do.  In the end, we decided to stay.  A lot of our neighbors are still not back. So, there’s a strange calm that rests in our neighborhood now.

All in all, we are stronger because of the storm – silly to say, I know. But, it’s true.  We’ve learned that we can handle most anything if we stay steady and on course.  This is easier said than done.  And we veered off course many, many times.

What did I learn from all of this mess?  

I learned that resilience is key to managing through any disaster.  And it pays to have a good plan in place – just in case you need it, because chances are . . . you will need it.

And I learned that when it rains (in Houston), chances are it is going to pour! (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

Widespread Cell Outage Reminds Us It’s Not “Just A Phone”; The State of Readiness in the Private Sector – This Week in Business Continuity

Outage estimate as of 3:00 p.m. Central, 05Aug15. Click to enlarge. Screen grab: downdetector.com.

Outage estimate as of 3:00 p.m. Central, 05Aug15. Click to enlarge. Screen grab: downdetector.com.

For those of us who held on to our landlines for so long or might even still have them, last night’s widespread, hours-long outage of cell coverage for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon customers in Knoxville, Nashville and other parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama would have been one of those very rare times we’d have danced the little told-ya’-so dance . . . except that the outages in Tennessee and Kentucky, at least, evidently also involved the hard lines.  The outage is being blamed on a hardware failure and early this morning the problem was reported to have been fixed, although judging by the continuing Verizon outage reflected as of around 3:00 p.m. Central today (see image above), the issue continues to plague large sections of the eastern half of the U.S.  Problems are also being reported in Houston, Chicago, Knoxville, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Ypsilanti, L.A., Atlanta and New York City.

This is scary.  Mere individual dropped calls are pretty much considered a thing of the past but widespread, sustained outages?  Absent a very significant natural disaster, those just don’t happen anymore.  Were these outages to continue, how long would they have to last and how often would they need to occur before you’d consider adding a third form of remote, verbal communication be added to your organization’s business continuity plan?

Here’s the list of the continually updated outage maps, although they remind me a bit of some of the lower-resolution weather radar maps that often make approaching storms look much more widespread than they actually are.  And with the continued outages, you’ll need to be patient with the loading speed of these.

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There’s still time to register to attend the August 12th Continuity Housing webinar, “The State of Readiness in the Private Sector – A Train Wreck in 2015 . . . What That Means to You” by Bo Mitchell.  That’s a Wednesday, the presentation is at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central and you can find out more and register here.  As always, register even if you can’t attend so that you automatically receive the link to the recording afterwards.

A little about this one. “Despite all the media, the vast majority of private-sector organizations don’t know a lockdown from a touchdown. Companies don’t know NIMS from hymns. None of these organizations have trained their employees as required and defined by law. Whether it’s an active shooter, chemical spill outside, tornado, earthquake – any of it – their management staffs don’t have the command, control and communications to collaborate with emergency services when they arrive. The readiness in the private sector – which controls 85% of the critical infrastructure in America – is a train wreck in 2015.”  Learning Objectives:

  1. What’s the research on the state of readiness in the private sector?
  2. What drives this lack of readiness in the private sector?
  3. What laws, regulations and standards control private-sector emergency planning and training?
  4. What does this lack of readiness mean to managements and directors?
  5. What are the solutions to the train wreck of private-sector readiness?

Register here and we’ll see you on the 12th.

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So now that you’ve had a week to assess the whole “my travel department has the housing piece covered” thing, let’s dig into that a little deeper.  According to Continuity Housing principal Michelle Lowther last week, the first reason for not relying on your travel department as your housing plan is that the travel agents are usually not employees of your organization.  “So what,” you say?

“Your travel department is a great resource,” says Lowther, “but the best way for them to support you is before a deployment, not right at crunch time.  For example, the folks in travel can give you a wealth of information such as: (i) a list of hotels where you have special negotiated rates along with corresponding amenities, directions, pet policies, etc. and (ii) the travel profiles (preferences, corporate credit cards, loyalty program info) of members of your critical team.  And I suppose at crunch time they can also provide information about particular hotels’ occupancy (assuming hotels haven’t shut down their inventory, as many hotels do in emergency situations, making it impossible for agents to see real time room availability), which can help you determine whether or not you need to act fast in order to secure rooms.

“But the problem comes,” says Lowther, “when you make the mistake of thinking a reservation is a reservation is a reservation.  Not true.  Booking transient [individual] reservations requires a different skill set than negotiating a group contract, which contains more than 60 negotiable terms.  And a contingency booking requires skillful crafting of the more complex terms in order to account for the fluid nature of that type of booking.

“Plus,” she continues, “the agents are not your employees, which means that when their shift is over, you still have to fend for yourself.”

How to fend for yourself?  Keep reading.  We’ll do the heavy lifting for you.

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Finally, here’s a helpful personal tip to remember if your next deployment is due to a disruption that might involve the potential for sustained power outage that might be repaired before you return.  If it’s even possible that your fridge might be out for a while and the food might spoil, the night before you leave (if possible) fill a plastic cup with water and freeze it.  After it freezes, place a coin on top of the ice and put the cup back in the freezer.  When you return from your deployment, check the cup and if the coin is still on top, all is well.  If the ice is intact but the coin is on the bottom or even in the middle of the cup, that means there was a sustained outage and – better safe than sorry – you should toss all the food in your fridge and your freezer.  I’d like to take credit for this one but it’s straight from Hints From Heloise.  (Always read your Heloise.)

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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.

Government Agencies Discovering Social Media? Plus: Top Ten Hotels for Techies – This Week in Business Continuity

Houston TranStar command center.

Houston TranStar command center.

Early last week the Harris County Office of Emergency Management conducted a series of tabletop (more like work station) exercises in conjunction with Houston TranStar and a dozen other county, state and federal departments and agencies the goal of which was to familiarize their staff with better ways to utilize social media to engage the public in the event of a disaster.  Initially my response to this was, “Uh, yeah – it’s about time.”  But that reaction was wrong.  [Opinion Alert.]  Usually government entities designate tasks like perfecting their social media operations to a department like IT or the marketing division, if they have one, and those departments already have other elements to manage on a full-time basis.  But using social media to alert the general public is much more than a task and communicating the potential for a significant disruption or disaster, as well as how to best prepare for the event, are and should be the responsibility of a much larger subset of the agencies involved.  Making it part of the overall culture and prioritizing the continual perfection of the process, not to mention keeping track of the constant barrage of new online alerting techniques that continually pop up, well that’s just fantastic.

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There’s still time and a little room to register to attend the August 12th webinar, “The State of Readiness in the Private Sector – A Train Wreck in 2015 . . . What That Means to You” by Bo Mitchell.  That’s a Wednesday, the presentation is at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central and you can find out more and register here.  Broken record: register even if you can’t attend so that you automatically receive the link to the recording afterwards.

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Okay all you Bucket Two types: this one’s for you.  (If you’re not sure which bucket you fall into, check out last week’s contracting excerpt.)  So.  Bucket Two Folks.  You have a travel management company that books your company’s hotels, cars and flights, and because you are such a well known organization and give these hotels regular business, your relationships are going to pull you through during a deployment.  Right?  Or something along those lines?

Wrong.

Take another look at our case study.  This was a company just like yours with a plan that looks eerily similar to yours.  At least, this was their plan before they had to actually test it through activation.  So why didn’t it work?

“Several reasons,” says Continuity Housing principal Michelle Lowther.  In the interest of time (and blog space) we’re going to take these one by one.  First, the travel agents were not company employees, so getting them to work the intense hours needed to manage deployment housing was impossible.  Since pre-guaranteed hotel rooms were not set up in advance, the company was booking people all over the place, creating a lot more [polldaddy poll=8994332 align=”right”]work for the bookers and a lot more headache for the people trying to keep track of who was staying where.  Even when they found rooms, in some cases they were not able to pin down someone with appropriate signing authority to sign off on hotel contracts, so they ended up losing those rooms.”  Read: the hotels had someone in the wings vying for those same rooms, and they opted for the bird in their hands.  “It’s catch as catch can for hotels trying to maximize their revenue during a crisis.  And like it or not, that’s exactly what their stakeholders expect them to do.”

More details to come, but in the meantime, we’d like to hear from you.  What mechanism does your company rely on to secure guaranteed housing in the event of a deployment?  If they rely on a travel management company, hit the survey on the right.

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Finally, if you’re in IT you’ll appreciate this and if you’re not, forward it to your favorite IT folks because they’ll appreciate it: The 10 Best Hotels for Techies.  Most of us won’t ever stay at most of those places – I like the retinal scan door locks at Boston’s Nine Zero property although 10 grand per night is a little steep – but it’s yet another example of the hotel industry customizing and innovating to the benefit of their target audiences . . . and the revenue they bring with them.  At Continuity Housing we keep a daily lookout for the best for our clients but do forward that one to your IT folks.  They’ll enjoy it.

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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.

Active Shooter Response Training; The State of Readiness in the Private Sector – This Week in Business Continuity

This past April and again last month, the Association of Contingency Planners webinar series hosted by Continuity Housing featured detailed, hour-long webinars on how to respond in an active shooter situation; hit those links to watch the recording of either or both.  Frankly we’d planned on HPD-active-shooterleaving the topic alone for a while but Thursday’s mass shooting in Chattanooga serves as another tragic reminder that the possibility of encountering a similar situation continues to be very real for all of us.  Those videos are long but make time to watch them.  For a shorter look at what to do in an active shooter situation, the Houston Police Department produced a 6-minute video a few years ago that you should watch and share with anyone you care about.

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We now have six more ACP webinars scheduled through the fall but it’s not too late to register for the next one which is tomorrow, July 22nd at 11: 30 Eastern / 10:30 Central.  It’s called “Case Studies: Community Efforts to Enhance Workplace Preparedness for Bioterrorism” by Harlan Dolgin and you can register here. In September, Harlan will present on the topic of general preparedness for a flu pandemic and we’ll share the link to register for that one as soon as it’s scheduled.

The next Continuity Housing webinar is “The State of Readiness in the Private Sector – A Train Wreck in 2015 . . . What That Means to You” by Bo Mitchell.  It’s on Wednesday, August 12th at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central and you can find out more and register here.

Always register even if you can’t attend the live presentation so that you automatically receive the link to the recording.

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I mentioned a while back that I’d had a long talk with Bo about proper emergency preparedness ranging on topics both philosophic and practical.  Rounding out the discussion I asked who in each organization is responsible for insuring the organization is EAP (Emergency Action Plan) compliant and how they go about learning what it takes.  “The responsible party is the CEO. But he or she probably doesn’t know that. Think about that. Then know that, in most organizations, no one is assigned this responsibility. Or if they are, it is spread across silos. It could be HR. Or Security. Or Safety. Or Facilities. Every organization has a different answer.

“Know that one group that is not responsible for compliance: your landlord.  If you rent your space or any of your spaces in a multi-facility organization, know that your landlord’s planning – if they have any – is not substitutable under law for your plan. Nor does this make sense operationally speaking. It’s a fact that in almost all multi-tenant buildings, the landlord has no plan or it’s incompetent. Landlords never train. Often, they don’t even drill. Also, no law in any state or city or at the federal level permits your landlord’s plan to be your plan. The regulations always start, ‘The employer shall.’ Never ‘The landlord shall.’  All landlords do this badly. Anyone who says to you ‘Oh, that’s the landlord’s responsibility’ is – by definition and by law – negligent.”

If you’d like a copy of 911 Consulting’s “10 Commandments of Emergency Planning” and/or their “10 Commandments of Emergency Training,” email Bo at BoMitchell@911Consulting.net.

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We talked last week about prepping in advance – specifically, about pre-negotiating hotel contracts well in advance of a deployment.  Not only does it stave off price gouging and ugly contract terms but it makes for a far smoother deployment.  “But then it hit me,” says Continuity Housing’s principal, Michelle Lowther.  “It’s the people who THINK they have a plan that are in the most danger.”  So let’s back it up a bit.  Why is that the case, how do you know if you’re in that very boat and most importantly, how do you get out before said boat sinks?

For that, we turn back to Michelle.  “If an organization thinks they have it covered, they usually fall into one of two buckets.  Bucket One: small to mid-size businesses with only a handful of people to relocate who think they can do it online.  Bucket Two: large to mega-size businesses with high annual travel spend, strong hotel brand relationships at the global level and a travel management company that handles all their business travel.  The people in the first bucket are probably right.  They might be able to get online and eke out a few rooms here and there when they need them, provided things like room rate, pre-determined hotel location and pet acceptance are not priorities to them.  It’s the people in the second bucket who concern me.”  More about that next week, but in the meantime, if you think you might be in Bucket Two, here’s a hot tip.  “Check any hotel paperwork you have for the phrase ‘based on availability.’  I bet it’ll be in there somewhere,” says Michelle.

Wanna put this to the numbers?  Email me and we’ll send you a case study that we’ll explore a little more next week.  It’s a doozie.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.