“The Plan Went to Hell as Soon as The Eye Wall Crossed the Seawall.” Not Sticking to Your BC/DR Plan When You Need It Most

The seawall quote is one I heard when an associate of mine was talking about what happened when Ike made landfall just east of Galveston almost five years ago, sort of a BC riff on the best laid plans of mice and men.  His company had tweaked their BC plan for far longer than most companies even knew what a business continuity plan was.  They zealously practiced, they innovated, they researched and each year they did it all over again.

But their plan – every plan – is created with a specific set of alternative behaviors in mind. Each trigger point is supposed to be the result of A, B or C happening which in turn generates a pre-decided, often pre-negotiated reaction. Predeterminism is a continuity planner’s favorite tune until fate intervenes and instead of A, B or C you get . . . well, π.

As it became more apparent on the Friday night before Ike’s landfall that the storm was edging closer to Galveston, my friend’s company – with operations in Galveston, Texas City and along the Houston Ship Channel – decided to change a key element of their plan in regard to who should be deployed for fail-over, when they should go and where they should go.  They had a plan, but they reacted based on emotion and the behavior of others.  And they changed some of the most important elements of their plan at perhaps the worst possible time.

Ike near the Lesser Antilles, 07 September 2008. Photo: NASA

Ike near the Lesser Antilles, 07 September 2008. Photo: NASA

And everything worked out just fine.  At least for that particular set of changes for that particular storm and while that’s not a unique outcome, had the decision to change the plan been made during the ramp-up to another storm, the outcome may have been different and far worse.

Take for example the difference between the post-landfall scenario of Ike, which didn’t occur just after Katrina, versus the unimaginable public response in the build-up to Rita which itself was precipitated so very much by the devastation wrought by Katrina a month earlier.  (Researchers estimate that the pre-Rita evacuation of the Texas Gulf Coast was the largest single migration of a group of people in U.S. history.*)  Two different storms, same approximate strength, same general area.  Yet two entirely different outcomes.  Changing their deployment plan worked during Ike but if they had decided to do the same thing during Rita, they’d have been screwed.

If the company had decided to deploy their key staff in the Rita scenario – and there are many examples of tragedies that occurred during the Rita evacuation – those people wouldn’t have been where they needed to be for another 12 to 24 hours after they left.  And when they arrived . . . if they arrived . . . they’d be extremely tired, very hungry and in desperate need of a shower.  In other words, they’d probably be a tiny bit moody and not at peak performance when they were needed the very most, which of course defeats the purpose of having gone in the first place.

It’s only because this company knew exactly how and when to adapt their plan, i.e., what they did during Ike, that they were able to avoid repeating the mistakes that so many other companies made relevant to Rita.

Adaptation is necessary for any response but discuss with your team early and often (and then yet again) what might happen if important elements of your plan are modified midstream.  Color code your plan so that you know – or at least plan for as much as possible – which elements are written in stone and which are a little fuzzier around the edges.  Don’t just expect the unexpected, expect yourself and your team to act in an unexpected manner.

Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.

* Section c, page 8:  Richard D. Knabb, Daniel P. Brown, and Jamie R. Rhome (March 17, 2006). “Hurricane Rita Tropical Cyclone Report” (PDF). National Hurricane Center.

Disasters Are The New Normal? No, But The 24-Hour News Cycle Is (P.S. – Be Prepared Anyway)

Last week a friend of mine sent me a link to an article that he knew I’d enjoy, and by ‘enjoy’ I mean he knew it would bug me.  Over the last few years but especially over the last few months, articles and news stories have appeared proclaiming how much worse everything is getting, not just with political adversity but with devastating weather, monstrous wildfires and tragedies overall.

Baloney.

Having worked in marketing, the media overall and in a variety of contingency and prevention professions over the last 25 years, I’ve made a hobby out of watching how the news is presented, how it’s grown as an industry, how the different sources compete with each other and what gets covered . . . and how often, usually over and over and over again.  News, both good and bad, has been happening for millennia and the only thing that’s changed is the fact that we now have not only a 24-hour news cycle – and a few hundred million people carrying video cameras around in their pockets – but a 24-hour news cycle that’s occupied by hundreds of different news outlets.

opposite-ends

Opposite ends of the same wide spectrum we inhabit.

A perfect example of how much things have changed is how the weather is covered.  I’m probably dating myself but many of us remember when information about an approaching hurricane was relegated only to the actual weather segment of a broadcast.   Updates would be issued and there might be a suggestion or two about filling your car’s gas tank and picking up a few extra cans of tuna.  Now when we have the slightest possibility of a tropical system that might impact a 50- or 100-mile section of coastline more than a week from now, it’s breaking news.  Cue the ominous soundtrack and flashing graphics.  Over and over and over again.

Another example is Tunguska and the fact that news of that truly earthshaking event took weeks and months to travel to the rest of the planet.  The amount of data that now flies across the internet, airwaves and via satellite is mind-boggling and a huge amount of it is entertainment disguised as news. Shocking, devastating news played over and . . . well, you get it.

If anything, a lot of things are getting a lot better.  Just last  week, U.S. researchers announced that they’d discovered a way to turn off the chromosome defect which causes Down syndrome.  Not to mention relatively recent debuts of the smartphone (when’s the last time you used a paper map?), hand sanitizer stations every 10 feet and the cronut.  All pretty good stuff.

Maintaining some perspective will help you lead a happier life, not to mention help you be more productive and sensible professionally.  After all, the constant barrage of bad news leads to burnout, apathy and reverse Chicken Little syndrome.  When the sky’s always falling (but it’s not), complacency becomes entrenched.  There will indeed be genuine tragedies, devastating occurrences and business interruptions in the future.  Unfortunately, you and/or your organization might be affected.  Check your plans, recheck them, fortify them and make them as robust as possible with new service solutions, new technology and new systems.  For most of us, right now is down time.  Use it wisely.

Continuity Housing helps companies with their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.

Threat of Chantal Dissipates. Or Does It? Ever? (A Recipe for Letting Your Guard Down)

Starting as early as last weekend, forecasters were predicting the potential for a severe impact from what are now the remnants of tropical storm Chantal.  One ‘news’ source even predicted a “Katrina like path” – with all that implies – despite the fact that the vast majority of the more than 20 hurricane models kept the storm out in the Atlantic and, at most, a minor/medium threat to the East Coast.

As a business continuity professional and a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast, storms like Chantal really bug me.  It’s not early in the season but so far – so far – the season hasn’t panned out to be the blockbuster that was predicted a few months ago.  Which means that, relevant to the fact that there have only been three named storms, it’s still psychologically early in a season which might turn brutal.  And that in turn is a brutal setup for the mindset of people in general and for preparedness professionals specifically  because we still have a long way to go before the end of the 2013 Atlantic tropical storm season.

You don’t have to go too far back to remember seasons that were late-bloomers but still had quite an impact on far too many victims.  1998 didn’t see a named cyclone until July 27th but that season produced Mitch, the second deadliest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history with an estimate of more than 20,000 casualties.

Having experienced several earthquakes, too many floods to count and a number of severe tropical storms and hurricanes, I remember what it meant to be caught off guard.  Alicia in ’83 (which didn’t make landfall until the middle of August despite being the A-storm, i.e., the first one) started out as a very small cluster of thunderstorms off the coast of Louisiana and made landfall just three days later as a category 3 hurricane which did enough damage to Houston that the name Alicia was retired by the World Meteorological Organization.  (I made a lot of money with a chainsaw clearing downed limbs in the two weeks after the storm but I don’t remember it being worth the many nights spent trying to sleep without air conditioning when the lows were in 80s.)

Another example was the very early (first week of June) tropical storm Allison in 2001 which developed a crush on the upper Texas Gulf Coast and refused to leave.  After four days of meandering in more or less the same position with the center of the storm over land, it generated enough rainfall that the Houston area reached absolute saturation.  Up to that point, the never-ending rain had just been a nuisance but at some point overnight on Friday, June 8th, there simply nowhere left for the flood water to go. The fact that it didn’t make landfall and move on out of the area resulted in enough flooding damage that it remains the only tropical storm to have its name retired by the WMO and it caused more than $2 billion in damage just to the Texas Medical Center.  The fact that it was ‘just’ a tropical storm resulted in a classic example of millions of people and thousands of businesses getting caught off-guard.

The real damage that Chantal will cause will happen weeks or months from now when all anyone remembers about this hurricane season is that it was a dud.  Until it fires up and we get caught off-guard.

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Allison flooding a section of U.S. 59 just southwest of downtown Houston. Photos: Fred Rogers

The Perishable Items in Your Disaster Response Kit: The Number One Thing You Should Know About Hotel Rooms In An Emergency Deployment

Take a minute to think of the things that you must consume by a certain date or, one way or another, they’ll go bad.  Expire.  Go away.  A few common examples come to mind.

  • Bananas
  • Milk
  • The batteries in your smoke detector

Now think about your BC/DR plan.  What could possible expire in that?

  • Ride-out supplies, particularly food
  • Fueling contracts
  • Employee contact data
  • Hotel rooms

What?  Hotel rooms?  Surely I mistyped, right?  A hotel room, once built, is there until the building is demolished.  That’s true, but the concept of a hotel room night – any room at any hotel on any given night – is perishable.

Think about it.  A hotel with 300 rooms has an opportunity every single night to sell those 300 rooms.  However, if the night comes and goes and some of those rooms go unsold, then the hotel’s opportunity to sell them passes as well.  The flip side of that is that during peak season or a major event like a disaster that causes a business disruption, those room nights are few and far between.

Kind of a different way to view hotels, isn’t it?  But that, my business continuity friends, is the premise for every interaction you have with hotels.  And if it’s not, it should be.  Every question, every guarantee you ask them to make, every contract you sign.  It’s all based on the concept of hotel room nights being a perishable good.

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Add to that the fact that often times other people want to eat your bananas . . . er, get their hands on your hotel rooms, especially in an emergency or fail-over situation.  The term “unknown unknowns” was a buzz phrase a few years back but there’s a reason.  What do you not know about guaranteed hotel room nights that you might need in the event of a business disruption?

Don’t leave it to chance.  Or luck.  Or even to what you think your agreement with a hotel guarantees.  Those hotel room night unknowns?  Make it a point to know about them.  Or hire someone who does.

Veteran Hotel Account Manager, Meeting Planner Miranda Hyvl Joins Continuity Housing

Continuity Housing is pleased to announce that Miranda Hyvl (pron. HEE-vuhl) recently joined our team as a Global Account Executive!  After graduation from the University of North Texas with a Hotel Sales Management degree, Miranda held several Operations and Sales Management positions in the hotel industry.  Throughout 15 years of hotel experience, most of her roles have been within the Hilton Hotels Organization and also with Del Lago Golf Resort in Houston, at the Wyndham Hotels National Sales Organization as an Account Manager, with the David Green Organization as a third-party Meeting Planner and as manager of a Sales Team as the Associate Director of Sales for the Hilton Bella Harbor Waterfront Resort.

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Miranda Hyvl
Continuity Housing

Through her various roles, Miranda has become extremely knowledgeable in the healthcare and medical device industries and has helped plan many training programs within those industries.  Miranda recently joined ConferenceDirect and will utilize her meeting planning skill set to work with her current clients in conjunction with her role with Continuity Housing.  Expertise in account development, strategic planning and execution of contracts are all talents that she brings to Continuity Housing.

One of Miranda’s greatest assets to the benefit of Continuity Housing’s clients is her experience working with and at various properties.  “I can see the hotel perspective because of my experience and I understand front office systems,” she says.  “I’m used to interacting with guests when they come in and they’re tired and I appreciate the guest angle and their point of view when they arrive.  One of my first responsibilities was with the Dallas Cowboys training camp, both with new recruits and with their top players.  During pre-season there were always cuts made to the new lineup and potential replacement players were brought in so there was a lot turnover and a lot of personalities and interesting requests.”  Sound familiar?  A bit like bringing in your second wave of responders to relieve your first string of critical personnel.

“My last large, ongoing project was with an $8 billion medical device company.  It’s a very large company and they brought in about 40 new trainees every other month.  I arranged all the details including food, their lab setup and equipment, shipment of specialty materials like bones and also ordering furniture to set up a lounge to make them comfortable.”  As to whether she’s ever worked with VIPs, Miranda relates that she’s provided services for “a lot of athletes and also VIPs who are big in their own industries, especially in the financial and medical industries.  I’m used to arranging for certain amenities to be flown in and coordinating particular room arrangements and furnishings because of personal preferences.”

Miranda’s professional accomplishments are underscored by how quickly she rose through the ranks of the Hilton system to become a member of the Gateway Hospitality Top Gun program, an elite group of managers who are sent to open new hotels.

This valuable experience is what makes Miranda such an asset to Continuity Housing’s clients.  “To open a hotel, you have to really know your stuff,” says Continuity Housing Principal, Michelle Lowther.  “Miranda’s key strength is the diversity of her background.  She’s able to talk hotels through any parts of our program that they may see as obstacles because she’s been there.  She knows.  And that means she’s that much more powerful at the negotiation table.”

ImageConsidering that most of her business is referral or repeat – she’s working on a program right now that she’s had for seven years – Miranda says that her favorite part of her career in hotel management is “the relationships and helping the client look good, which are always my main concerns.  Helping plan meetings, being onsite, improving my client’s worth.  All of those are things that make me know we’re doing a great job and proof of that is that I’ve become good friends with a lot of my clients.  In fact, one of them threw me a baby shower when I had my last baby!”

An avid runner who competes in any distance from 5Ks to half-marathons, Miranda, her husband Bruce and their five kids live in Heath about 20 miles east of Dallas.

Busy Hurricane Season Expected But There’s Still Time to Register for Next Week’s 24th Annual Hurricane Symposium in Houston

The start of the 2013 Atlantic tropical hurricane season is less than three weeks away and that means it’s time for the Annual Hurricane Symposium hosted by ImpactWeather.  There’s still time to register and this year they’re offering two different sets of presentations: one for offshore concerns on May 14th and one for onshore organizations on May 16th.  Continuity Housing is pleased to have once again been asked to participate in the informative, educational and entertaining onshore version next Thursday.

ImageFor full details, check out our posting from April 9th and there’s even more information and you can register here but do so as soon as you can.  Weather-wise it’s been an extremely unusual season in the U.S. and a number of national and global weather organizations, including ImpactWeather, agree that it’s going to be an unusually busy Atlantic tropical hurricane season.  Don’t let the fact that winter has hung around so long this year fool you into thinking that it’s going to be a quiet hurricane season.  Do your best to make sure you and your organization are as prepared as possible as soon as possible.

And we invite you as always to send questions about preparations for guaranteed housing for critical personnel in the event of a business disruption to michelle@continuityhousing.com.

Veteran Group Event Logistics Expert Joins Continuity Housing

Continuity Housing is delighted to announce that Casey Judd has joined our team as a Global Account Executive, handling both account management and onsite logistics responsibilities.  Casey began his career with the city of Logan, UT as the Special Events Manager organizing all major community events and sports.  After graduating from Utah State University with a B.S. in Parks and Recreation Management and a Minor in Management and Human Resources, he began working for Utah State University as a Conference/Event Planner. During his career at USU he organized conferences all across the country and worked with a very diverse group of clients and organizations.

ImageCasey joined ConferenceDirect in February 2011 following his stint at USU.  ConferenceDirect is an industry leader in strategic meetings management with over $500 million in annual hotel bookings.  As you know, Continuity Housing has a strategic alliance with ConferenceDirect and when we met Casey we knew he’d be a great addition to our team.

Casey has over 9 years of conference and event management experience.  He also has specialized expertise in the areas of conference communication technology and accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing, abstract management and academic based conferences.

As a Global Project Manager at ConferenceDirect, Casey is responsible for helping clients with strategic sourcing and contract negotiations.  He also provides conference management services including specialties such as room block audits, invoice reconciliation, destination management, onsite client transportation logistics, food and beverage management, audio visual coordination and negotiation, registration and all other onsite meeting logistics . . . pretty much anything that arises for a group of travelers whether it’s an exclusive board retreat or a convention for X number of attendees.   And of course when challenges arise at the destination, which they almost always do, Casey handles those situations with his signature calm and efficiency.  Sometimes to the point where his clients don’t even realize there was a challenge in the first place!

A good example of how onsite managing pays off for the client is evident in the many times Casey has negotiated customized menus with hotels by requiring bulk purchase of consumables as opposed to the more standard per-unit pricing.  Says Casey, “In one case a couple of years ago, we saved the client $20,000 over the span of a 2-day conference with about 700 attendees.”

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Casey Judd,
Continuity Housing

But potential savings during such an event go far beyond what’s normally overpaid for food and beverages.  “Also to drive higher savings, I’ll require competing bids for services the hotel usually already provides because in-house A/V, for instance, will always be more expensive.  I’ll go find four other companies and show the in-house group that I can get a better deal and get them to come down in pricing. I’ll typically bid most services that will be needed to ensure we’re getting the best quality service and the best deal for the client whether it’s A/V, trade show display companies, ASL interpreting and captioning services, etc.”

As you know, Continuity Housing is the one that connects the dots, putting our own spin on strategic meetings management expertise and delivering it to the business continuity community, saving our clients valuable time and money.

Casey has managed more than 50 group events throughout Utah as well as in Dallas, Atlanta, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Phoenix and New Orleans.

With such experience comes the occasional interesting situation and one such example played out while Casey was onsite as a client-side concierge in March of last year for a national conference of about 1,000 people.  “There was a group that was opposed to some of the exhibitors and sessions at the conference and they decided to show up and protest at the meeting. We had followed them via social media and knew that there would be a formal protest with signs at the main entry way of the hotel. We let them protest for a little bit of time and then had them escorted out which was all handled very well.

“But later that night we got a surprise when about 20 of them returned and tried to get past registration and get into the conference area.  We had to block the stairway with staff until the police got there but we also needed to avoid any interaction that might have generated beneficial press for them and/or negative press for the client.  The protestors weren’t violent, but were looking to cause a scene and catch our staff making a mistake and give them something they could use against us — they had several video cameras on us as this was happening. The goal is to always handle a unique situation in the most appropriate and quiet way that will have the least amount of impact on the clients and I feel we were able to do that in this instance.  It made for a good learning experience that helped me prepare for possible similar scenarios in the future.”

Exactly the discretion we expect our employees and contractors will utilize when put to the test.  He can think on his feet as well.

“As an onsite event manager,” he continues, “there’s usually an unexpected change onsite which requires you jump in and improvise.  Whether it’s an impromptu board meeting or a presenter changes their setup last minute or whatever it may be.  It’s fairly common and you deal with it.  You structure your staff and contracted service providers to fill the roles and services needed for things to run perfectly, but you’re also ready for those unexpected surprises onsite and ready to jump in and fill any needs no matter whose role it is – setting up AV, breaking down tables or directing traffic when the fire alarm goes off – you’re ready for whatever you have to do to make it happen. It’s challenging but extremely rewarding to manage the unexpected.  There are always changes onsite and that’s where we show our value when we can come up with Plan B really quickly.”

In summary he adds that, “The hard stuff isn’t quite as hard because we do it all the time.”

Casey is active in the hospitality industry association Meeting Professionals International and starting in May will be the Vice President of Membership for the Utah Chapter.  Casey and his wife Haley recently moved just across the border to Idaho to enjoy even more wide open spaces.  They have three boys ages 3, 6 and 8 and are enjoying Idaho outdoor living to the fullest by hiking and fishing in many of the 14 immediately located lakes and being outside in general.  Casey also volunteer coaches youth sports and is active in youth mentorship.

We look forward to working with Casey as he continues to help Continuity Housing clients across the U.S.!