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.

***

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 2015 Hurricane Season Predictions, FEMA’s Updated Severe Weather Prep “Toolkit” and More: This Week In Business Continuity

Regardless of what pops into your head when you hear or see the word FEMA, the reality is that the majority of the people involved with the organization want to do their best to mitigate the effects of disasters and help restore any interrupted environment to normalcy as soon as possible.  Just like the vast majority of the rest of us.

No, really.  In the spirit of this goal they’ve updated their Severe Weather Preparedness kit which debuted last year.  The kit’s basically a list of different types of online and social media tools to help you keep your people aware and prepared.  Comparing it to last year’s, the kit appears to have only been updated cosmetically but it’s still a handy collection of information to have even in this age when every company in the world wants you to install their own apps and access links on your phone.  The document can be accessed here.  Click on the second one, the .pdf.  Disregard the “[attach graphic]” notations; I don’t know why they didn’t just import those and place them in the doc.  Anybody else know?

severe-weather

Here’s another nifty list of online BC and related resources and apps that we posted last year.

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I’ll spare you the suspense: “We anticipate that the 2015 Atlantic basin hurricane season will be one of the least active seasons since the middle of the 20th century.”  Every year Drs. Phil Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University release their predictions of the number and types of Atlantic tropical storms they expect . . . and every year the media publishes the report as well as the several updates that the team releases throughout the season.  Why?  Because regardless of the fact that seasonal expectations aren’t nearly as important to prepare for as the one storm that might affect your location(s), the duo is pretty good at giving us a solid idea of the general conditions that we can expect.

least-activeI’ve met Dr. Gray and over the years I’ve come to know Phil pretty well and they’re both seriously dedicated and extremely good at what they do.  And with each passing year the technology improves and the algorithms get tweaked just that much more.  Like any team boldly daring to put their necks on the line about a subject that can have a tremendous impact on so many, they’ve missed the mark a few times.  But they run a tight ship, sans agenda, and both are nearly as talented at seasonal forecasts as is Chris Hebert of StormGeo.

And – segue alert – speaking of Chris Hebert, we’re genuinely honored to have him share his more detailed 2015 Atlantic hurricane season outlook in a 25-minute webinar on May 14th at 10:30 C / 11:30 E.  For more information and to register, click here.  I’ve produced more than 200 webinars since 2006 and I’ve known Chris for 24 years and I can say this: Chris and webinars were made for each other.  He’s one of the two or three best webinar (and live) presenters I’ve ever encountered and his presentations are always very fast-paced, informative and even entertaining.  The webinar is free to attend and, as always, register even if you can’t attend that day so that you automatically receive the follow-up email with the slide show and the link to the recording of the webinar that you can watch any time.

2015-forecast

Will Chris’ outlook be the same or more or less accurate than the one issued last week by Dr. Gray and Dr. Klotzbach?  Yes and no.  From the discussions we’ve had, I expect the specific numbers will be similar but some of the reasoning will be different.  And far easier to digest than the in-depth material in the Colorado State report.

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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 Highlights from January Including Where You’ll Soon Be Able To Get Checked In At A Hotel By A Robot

Once again much of the U.S. is in the throes of a severe winter storm with both Chicago and Boston recording near-record amounts of snowfall.  But what about the blown (pardon the pun) weather forecast from early last week that predicted that snow would practically bury New York City and surrounding areas?  I’ve worked in both the media and in the private weather forecasting industry and there are two parts to any severe weather forecast: the data and forecast as stand-alone information provided by the meteorologists . . . and the different ways media organizations decide to communicate that information.  I don’t have a problem with last week’s forecast in and of itself.  They really do their very best and weather forecasting accuracy has advanced light years in the last, um, 20 years.

sky-fallingBut the media abuses the information to boost ratings and inflate their ad rates and that practice isn’t going to change any time soon.  What concerns me is how the public will respond the next time we’re told the sky is falling.  People might decide to heed the warnings and they might not.  The major snowfall last week missed NYC by as few as 30 miles so the forecast was technically fairly accurate.  As for how the media over-reacted and how the local governments indicated the citizens were supposed to respond, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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An interesting side note to the storms last week and this week (the one this week being obnoxiously referred to as both “Darius” and “Linus”) is what’s apparently the new normal of local and regional government entities imposing a flat-out ban on civilian travel on the roadways.  That’s both logical and a little bit scary.  There’s no question that such a ban both reduces the number of weather-associated injuries and deaths as well as the amount of risk and expense incurred by emergency response agencies.  But how often can we expect such similar curfews in the future and for what other reasons might they be enacted?  What do you think?

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Last week was Continuity Housing’s annual retreat and general meeting.  As always it was a good chance to spend time in-person with the entire team considering that we’re based from coast to coast and quite a few places in between.  Achievements were reviewed, new client solutions were discussed and a lot of new goals were set.  One of the more interesting aspects of the meeting came at the very start in the hotel conference room when the captain of the catering department gave the now-standard safety chat.  “There are no fire drills scheduled today so if you hear the alarm, act immediately.”  Nice touch.

Continuity Housing’s Global Account Management team. As always, we needed a bigger conference room this year.

Continuity Housing’s Global Account Management team. As always, we needed a bigger conference room this year.

A new one I hadn’t heard before?  “In the event of a medical emergency, one of you begin CPR, one of you dial the desk with the house phone and tell the operator to call an ambulance and two of you call 911 on your cell phones.  We’ve found that the more people who place calls, the faster the response.”

It’s only a matter of time before instructions on how to respond to an active shooter situation is included in the pre-game huddle but the sooner the better.

***

More than a year after publicity and lobbying started for hotels to make it easier for anyone, especially children, to dial 911 from a hotel room – i.e., without having to dial 9911 or wait for the second dial tone, etc. – the vast majority of hotel chains have made the change or are beginning the process.  The process began last year following the death of a woman in a hotel room when her daughter was unable to quickly dial for help after her mother had been shot.  More than 70% of hotel properties, which translates to roughly 7,800 properties, are engaged in the modification and more are expected to do so by the end of this year.

***

Kudos to Marriott for doing the right thing and vowing never to block wifi access at properties they manage, a decision announced in a communique to industry professionals and posted on their website on January 15th and updated a few days ago.  Well, never again that is.  A belated move, perhaps, but it shows their willingness to respond to guest concerns.  We salute Marriott for supporting business continuity professionals by making sure that it’s always safe to do business while you’re staying there.

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You can still register for this Wednesday’s Association of Contingency Planners webinar, Bioterrorism Preparedness for Businesses: How to Stay Operational, Even During an Anthrax Attack.  You can get more information and register here for free (as always since the ACP webinar series is sponsored by Continuity Housing).  Go ahead and register even if you’re not available on Wednesday morning so that you automatically receive the link to the recording of the webinar.  [Update 04Feb15: the recording of that webinar is now posted.]

And you can watch the ACP webinar from last week – Recent Developments: ISO/Technical Committee 292, Securityhere on Continuity Housing’s YouTube channel.

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What happens if your email host (be it corporate or generic mass market) tweaks the spam folders and forgets or decides not to tell you?  Take a moment and imagine the problems that could cause, especially if some of your clients or vendors use mass-market email services such as sbcglobal.net or even Gmail.  Email server hosts typically make these and similar adjustments very early on Sunday mornings and over major holidays when traffic is slower.  Consider setting up a monthly reminder to email yourself from several different types of accounts and check which ones make it through and which ones don’t.  Yet another picky little thing to put on the list but one that could pay off large.  And besides, we’re business continuity professionals.  It’s the picky little things that help us sleep at night.

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Here’s something to look forward to, maybe.  A Japanese firm will open a theme park hotel this summer staffed up to 90% by robots “Robots will provide porter service, room cleaning, front desk and other services to reduce costs and to ensure comfort.”  Comfort?  They’ve evidently never seen Westworld.

robot

“Checkout is at 11:00. Enjoy your stay!” Photo: telegraph.co.uk

The hotel will also utilize facial recognition for guest room door access thereby eliminating the need for keys.  I’m usually an early adopter of new technology but I don’t know if I like that any more than I do the idea of using your smartphone as a credit card.  At least your IT folks will like it when it’s time for a fail-over deployment.

Off-peak single rooms will only run about $60 a night with that cost doubling during the busy season, although the theme park utilizes “actual-sized copies of old Dutch buildings to bring the experience of the Netherlands to Japan” and I’m not quite sure when the busy season is for that.

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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 consultation, let us know.

Posted by Fred Rogers on 03 February 2015.

Holiday Travelers Beware: New Third-Party Scams Target You Right In Your Hotel Room

Every once in a while, network news unwittingly contributes significantly to the safety and efficiency of a potential business continuity deployment.  That was the case Monday morning when ABC aired a segment on new scams being perpetrated by con artists on holiday travelers staying in hotels.  Watch it.  It’s less than three minutes long, and ABC gives you some simple and practical ways to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.  And the piece doesn’t just apply during the holidays.  The same scams can happen to anyone traveling and staying in a hotel at any time anywhere.  Specifically, four different new scams to be aware of:

  • holiday-scams

    Click to play.

    Professional-looking fake pizza delivery flyers that get slipped under your door, show up on your car windshield, etc. You call in to order a pizza and they ask for your credit card number.  I’d never heard of this one before and I have to say that it’s every bit as clever as it is annoying.

  • A phone call that’s supposedly from the front desk informing you that due to some type of outage, they’ve lost your credit card information and they need you to give it to them again over the phone.
  • Hacker-installed wifi access posing as official hotel wifi service. Log on and they can read everything on your computer including passwords, bank access information, etc. Always confirm with the hotel which wifi access is actually theirs.
  • Wireless key loggers installed on seemingly innocuous zip drives. Never share your zip drive or use one provided by anyone other than someone you know and trust.

Based on my own decades of business travel, I’d like to add a few more tips on what to do and not do while you’re staying at a hotel.  Some of this advice came at much greater expense than I’d like to remember so please consider each one.

  • never-wear-badgeIf anyone calls your room asking you to meet them in the lobby and you don’t know the person, call hotel security and ask them to escort you until you give them the all-clear. (If you’re meeting the security guard in the lobby, make it easier on her or him by describing yourself when you call to make the request.)  This sounds like overkill but it’s simply common sense and hotel security will be happy to oblige.
  • Never, ever, ever wear your conference/convention badge or company photo ID in public. Obviously there are exceptions for people like utility company employees but if you’re required to wear a photo ID at work, put it in your purse or pocket the moment you step out the door at the end of the day.  If you’re attending a seminar or convention, trade show or conference, never under any circumstances wear your attendee badge (“Hi! My name is Distracted Traveler!”) anywhere but where it’s required for access.  For that matter, don’t hang it on your rear view mirror or leave it anywhere else in your car. Why?  Because at just a momentary glance, anyone can learn what you look like, your name, the company you work for and which car is yours.  Based on a particularly bad experience during a business trip to New Orleans in 1994, I feel so strongly about this matter that I used to fine my employees in the form of docking their per diem a full $100 if I caught them wearing their convention badge anywhere in public.
  • Use all the locks on your door when you arrive even if you only plan on being in your room for a few minutes.
  • Traveling with valuables? That safe in the closet in your room?  Use it.  Or arrange with the hotel to keep your valuables (within reason) in their safe.
  • No matter how late you arrive or how tired you are or how early you have to get up, don’t just plan at least two escape routes – WALK both of them before you turn in for the night. Even ‘official’ escape routes on clearly marked signs might be temporarily blocked during your stay.  And if you don’t like where your room is relevant to your ability to make a quick exit, request a room change.
    • The same goes for any meeting room or convention ballroom or theater or office space that you’re meeting in.
  • Don’t wear shoes that you can’t run in. I realize that one’s a whole lot easier for men than it is for women but if I can’t skedaddle in a pair of shoes, I don’t wear them.  In fact, except for fishing waders and cowboy boots, if I can’t run in a pair of shoes I don’t own
  • This one’s a little off-topic but always make sure you’re parking your vehicle in the right place and that you’re paying the right person. Embarrassing myself for the sake of your safer, happier travels, that parking lot employee where I parked my truck at the Georgia World Congress Center in 1997?  He wasn’t a parking lot employee.  My lack of attention to detail cost me $385 in ‘oversized vehicle’ towing charges and several hours in a part of town I didn’t have the time to be in.
  • Use common sense. Even if you’ve stayed at a particular property before and are very familiar with it, you’re still in unfamiliar waters when you’re traveling.  Be on your guard.

What did I miss here?  What safety tips do you actively practice?  Let us know in the comments and we’ll share them in a follow-up.

Arrive safely, get your work done, enjoy yourself to the greatest extent possible and get home intact.  And if you’re traveling for the holidays, pack a little extra patience and have fun!

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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 consultation, let us know.

ACP Webinar “The Importance of a Resilient Supply Chain” – Recording Now Available

The last Association of Contingency Planners Webinar Series presentation of the year – The Importance of a Resilient Supply Chain – was yesterday and there were a lot more attendees than I’d expected given that it’s Thanksgiving week.  As usual, about 55% of those who registered for the webinar actually attended so, as always, we recorded the presentation and posted it here so that anyone who couldn’t attend can watch it whenever they want to.

supply-2The presentation was made by Patrick Alcantara and Andrew Scott, both with the The Business Continuity Institute, and details the results of The BCI’s annual Supply Chain Resilience survey, just how big an impact these disruptions can have and how frequently they occur.  Because, as the webinar description reminds us, it’s no longer enough to ensure that you have your own contingency plan in place, it’s vital to ensure that everyone within your supply chain has one, too.  The recording runs just under 36 minutes and the ACP Webinar Series is sponsored by Continuity Housing.

Click to view the recording on YouTube.

Click to view the recording on YouTube.

We’re already working on the first two webinars of the new year and I’ll post about those in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Arrive safely, eat a little more than you should and make some great memories!

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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 consultation, let us know.

Hotels Holding Wifi Access Ransom? What Does Your Business Continuity Plan Think of That?

Recent news that the FCC had fined Marriott $600,000 for blocking access to wifi at a conference center at one of their properties while charging companies up to $1,000 per device for that same access didn’t really strike me as that newsworthy.  In fact, I was surprised to find out that it was actually illegal because hotels and convention centers have been strictly controlling access to the internet since the mid ‘90’s.  I just never realized how illegal it was for them to do so.  Having managed seminars and the presence of various corporations at trade shows since before the consumer internet even existed, I well remember paying as much as $250/day for internet access, although in the earlier days obviously only hard-wire connections were available.

high-tailHowever, the size of the fine for a single-location violation and the fact the FCC also essentially put Marriott on probation (in addition to the fine, the chain also has to submit compliance updates with the FCC every three months for the next three years) means that the feds were taking the matter seriously.  And they should.  Hotels are in business to make money and they should make money.  But unlike charging per phone call made from your room in the days before cell phones (anybody else remember that?), disabling customers’ hotspot access and then charging them for the same access isn’t just making those customers pay twice for access, it’s doing so for a shockingly high rate.

Understandably, other chains high-tailed it to clarify that they either didn’t charge similar fees or that their internet access fees were ‘nominal.’  Mmmmkay.

More specifically to the needs of business continuity professionals, the practice of charging such high fees for internet access is yet another reason why it’s a bad idea for your BC plans to rely on your away teams to work in hotel conference rooms.  To begin with, conference rooms aren’t designed to act as long- or even medium-term work spaces.  Rental fees are usually fairly high, bathroom access can be an issue and room service or other onsite catering options are expensive.  Good luck finding a hotel that will let you bring food in from offsite; it just doesn’t happen.  Other potential concerns include security (is that wall between your war room and the driver’s ed class next door retractable?), privacy (we can’t keep the inquiring media out of a hotel’s public spaces) and the fact that, to hotels, their meeting rooms are like gold.  They have few of them, compared to guest rooms, and they’ll tell someone they’re sold out before they put the “wrong” (read: less profitable) group into that space.  Never mind the new airline-style fees that many of the chains are starting to tack on for what have always previously been considered standard or courtesy services.

Marriott responded to the fine by stating that they have “a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft.”  The sentiment sounds respectable but to me it also sounds suspiciously like they were charging their guests for their own protection.  Cue the theme of The Godfather.

Am I saying that Marriott shouldn’t make a profit?  I am absolutely not saying that.  As with the provision of any type of infrastructure, there are labor and materials costs to recoup and they’re not running a charity.  And they do make a good point about wanting to ensure a quality internet experience for meeting attendees by controlling the access.  But they don’t own the air and the block-and-charge policy is financial double jeopardy for customers.  Just like you – I’m speaking specifically to you, the business continuity professional reading this – shouldn’t pay for a no-show or an early departure by one of your team members if your crisis deployment plans change, and they will, you shouldn’t have to pay double for internet access.

As an aside, blog co-editor and Continuity Housing Principal Michelle Lowther adds that, “We’d be remiss not to mention the fact that the hotel that got Marriott fined by the FCC, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Conference Center, will always have a special place in my heart for their outstanding response and management of their staff and guests during the Nashville floods of 2010 which devastated their hotel.  These people did it right.”

My take-away?  Marriott got off easy.  It was just luck of the draw that they were the ones that the FCC singled out among the many, many other chains who committed the same violation over such a long period of time.  For now they and the other hotel chains should cross their fingers that they don’t find themselves on the receiving end of a class action lawsuit filed by the tens of thousands of companies and organizations who paid through the nose for so long in order to access the internet.

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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 to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

Celebrity Photo Hack: Is It Time To Quit The Cloud? (Spoiler Alert: This Article Contains No Celebrity Photos)

Jennifer Lawrence is the best.  She’s an excellent actress, she’s hilarious and her whimsical modesty is delightful.  And it’s a shame that she’s at the forefront of the latest celebrity photo hack.  Nonetheless, I’ve had a phone with a camera since 2007 – and I got one of the first digital cameras back in the mid ‘90’s – and I’ll pay $10,000 cash to anyone who can find a nude selfie of me anywhere.  Because there aren’t any.

It’s a universal truth, however, that sometimes humans simply do dumb things.  Also true is that for most of us the cloud is a part of our everyday lives either personally, professionally or both and oftentimes whether we even know it or not.  The issue is getting lots of ink this week and when we translate it into “Business-Continuity-ese,” it means our data and other proprietary information may not be as secure as we think.  So what can you do to prevent sensitive material from falling into the wrong hands?  I spoke with Russell Holliman, an IT expert with 30 years of experience and Continuity Housing’s technology advisor, to find out.

First of all, the easiest lesson to learn is that just because you delete a photo from your phone doesn’t mean that it has disappeared forever.

Same goes for your hard drive if you’ve backed up to the cloud.

Next, says Holliman, “Be selective about what you use the cloud for.  Opt to actively back up onto your computer instead of just letting it run in the background.”  Yes, it’s less convenient, but only in the same way that it’s less convenient to heat water for tea in your microwave as opposed to just getting it from an on demand tap.  I mean, who actually boils anymore?  And funny enough, restoring data from your computer to your phone is actually faster than restoring from the cloud.

easierSo what if you want to keep using the cloud anyway?  “Ironically, iCloud, like many of the other cloud services, already offers two-factor authentication that might give you a little peace of mind: once you set it up, any time you need to access your backup account, it sends a text to the phone that’s registered with that account with a code that you have to type in before it will allow you to have access.”  Also, once the access process has been initiated, the code that is sent to your phone has a very short lifespan – usually under a minute – which is yet another layer of protection.  The trick is that you have to subscribe to the option, install it (if necessary) and then use it . . . every single time.

“A lot of companies have already implemented two-factor authentication (although a lot do not force customer to use it) and there are a lot of third-party apps to help. For instance Coinbase uses Authy for two-factor security.  And many banks – JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America – not only offer proprietary two-factor authentication but actually require that their customers use it for remote access.  There’s also a Google app that does essentially the same.”

And how to avoid the particular issue that’s in the news right now?  Says Holliman, “If you go to your Settings on iPhone, you can turn off Sync to iCloud and the same settings can be modified in iTunes so that you can selectively choose what does and doesn’t get backed up to iCloud – your photos, your calendar, emails, reminders, etc.”

While we’re at it, what exactly is the cloud?  In short, it’s shared, distributed server space. It’s not dedicated, proprietary data storage such as your hard drive or a company’s private server.  Your photos on Facebook, for instance, are cloud-based – and once you upload a photo, Facebook owns it always and forever, even if you delete your account.  (And yeah, that was in the fine print in the terms of service you agreed to when you started your account.)  Conversely, other similar-acting services such as Dropbox and Google Drive use secure encryption specifically for your data.  Says Holliman, “If you delete one of your folders from DropBox, it will be gone as soon as you clean out your trash.  All data is encrypted on their server and also, and by design, if you forget your password, you’re out of luck.”

What a Coinbase access authorization code looks like. Note the tiny lifespan.

What a Coinbase access authorization code looks like.
Note the tiny lifespan.

For business continuity and other professional users, he says, “First and foremost use a very difficult password.  Contrary to what a lot of people think, hacking is not always simple guessing.”  Hackers aim for the lowest-hanging fruit: and when they do resort to “guessing” (i.e., a brute force attack) the easier the password and more often you use it (don’t ever use the same password twice), the easier it is for them to figure out.”  Holliman recommends using a service such as LastPass which is “a browser-based plugin that generates very complicated passwords for the sites you commonly log in to and then they keep a record of them.  There’s even a LastPass app for the iPhone but in order to use it on your phone you have to switch from the secure site you want to access to LastPass, type in your encryption login, copy the password and then paste it into the site you want to visit.”  A pain in the butt . . . but much better security.

And only because it bears repeating, don’t use the same password twice.

Holliman continues, “Consciously select companies that use two-factor authorization and actively support those companies.  It’s very important to get in the habit of supporting them even if you just buy the lowest-tier of service.  Speaking of which, Apple actually uses very high-end encryption both on the storage side and when the data is in transit.”  But you have to actively participate in the process and not just set everything to automatically save every time you sync your phone.

This isn’t the first time celebrities have been victimized by cloud hacks.  Several years ago a number of the rich and famous discovered that hackers had managed to gain access to their voice mails by using a fairly simple VoIP scheme and taking advantage of the fact that many of the celebrities had failed to simply set up their voice mail access code option.  Again, another inconvenience but one that pays dividends.

From a corporate standpoint, a lot of companies that don’t even allow DropBox to be used by their employees.   Again, says Holliman, “Don’t upload anything [to a non-proprietary server] that you don’t want people outside the company to see.  If it’s company confidential, you should have adequate space on a proprietary server.”  And if the backup server is a dedicated point, make sure it’s the company’s own storage.  “A lot of backup server providers actually outsource the service and put their name on it.”  And some of them store the data where?  You guessed it – in the cloud.

Bottom line: “Don’t ever use the cloud, regardless of how it’s branded, for backup of corporate or personal proprietary information.”

And never, ever take nude selfies.

***

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 to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

Two Reasons for BC Professionals to Join the Association of Contingency Planners: Better Results For You and More Money (Also For You)

I’m probably a little shy of the age (that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!) when I can use phrases like “back in the day” but I don’t remember there ever being so very many options for different industry organizations to join.  I remember groups like the American Institute of Architects and the American Medical Association – old school professional organizations that seem to have been around for eons.  Now, however, and especially with the explosion of activity on LinkedIn, there seem to be half a dozen DONT-KEEP-SECRETSprofessional organizations for every industry, sub-industry, niche profession and one-of-a-kind vocation on the planet.  If you’re a left-handed pediatric veterinary cosmetic micro-surgeon, there’s a place for you.  The dilemma we sometimes face now: too many options.  But for BC pros, the Association of Contingency Planners makes it an easy choice.

Naturally the Association provides a number of excellent reasons for joining but for me it boils down to a single reason: opportunity.  Or maybe two single reasons: opportunity that leads to more money earned and more money saved by our clients.  Then there are the opportunities for education, networking and enhancement of my company’s BC and DR plans and suddenly, joining up makes a whole lot of sense. Annual dues (just $125) are pro-rated monthly so if you join this month you only have to pay for the rest of this year.  It’s a bargain.  Full disclosure: I don’t work for ACP in any capacity but Continuity Housing is indeed working with the Association in order to re-introduce their popular and free webinar series for its members.

[Speaking of which . . . the first of the webinar series will be “Securing Guaranteed Hotel Rooms For Your Organization In a Deployment: A Tale of Two Companies (Case Studies)” on Tuesday, August 12th at 10:30 Central presented by yours truly.  There are more than 60 negotiable terms in a hotel’s group booking contract, and this session will equip you with creative, unique ways to craft those contracts to your organization’s best advantage to fit the unique aspects of a crisis management booking.  Find out more and register for this free, fast-paced, 45-minute webinar here.]

So what’s the ROI on joining the ACP?  Results will vary depending on your level of commitment but let’s take a little field trip across the last eight years of my professional life:

  • 2006: I created Continuity Housing’s patent-pending program to guarantee companies hotel rooms on a contingency basis without having to pay an arm and a leg for them.
  • 2009: I joined ACP. (Should’ve joined earlier.)
    • Which begat a presentation I made to a local chapter about avoiding the pitfalls of securing guaranteed housing for critical personnel in the event of a disaster and/or a business interruption.
    • Which led to me being asked to present similar material to other chapters.
    • Which resulted in me getting to meet ImpactWeather’s business continuity team managed by Ed Schlichtenmyer and, at that time, Mike Thomson who asked me to present not once but twice at the company’s annual Hurricane Symposium.
    • Which in turn introduced me to Ed Goldberg enabling me to present in a number of the original ACP Webinar Series which started in 2011.
    • Which fomented (I’m running out of terms that mean “which led to”) a continuing series of invitations for me to make presentations at national industry conferences hosted by Continuity Insights, EEI, ACP and CPM – as well as the webinar next month for ACP (we posted about that this past Wednesday) and presentations to local ACP chapters in CA, CT, FL, MA, NY, TX and WA.
    • And they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on… (Click here if you’re too young to understand that reference.)
  • And all along the way and with increasing frequency, Continuity Housing has been exposed to more opportunities. And by opportunities, I mean contracts.  And by contracts, I mean revenue.

Also as a direct result of my membership, I got one degree closer to Kevin Bacon.  Just kidding.  Although that would be awesome and I encourage you to check out The Following some week.

And no, it’s not all, or even mostly, about the monetary gain.  It’s the less tangible bennies that keep me coming back to ACP.

acp-webinars-awesomeOne of the Continuity Housing team members goes fairly far offshore to fish from time to time and more than once in the past he’s told me about the informal but rigidly obeyed tradition of mariners helping each other out whenever a nearby crew or their boat is in trouble and that the entire BC community acts in much the same way.  We don’t keep secrets.  We share what we learn so that we all get better at what we do and learn new ways to keep even more people more efficiently out of harm’s way.  In fact, we attended a gathering the week before last hosted by the South Texas Chapter (see photo) and had a great time learning some new things, making some new connections and reconnections and hearing about what’s next, which for this particular chapter is a  very cool 90-minute boat tour of the Port of Houston in mid-August before the monthly chapter meeting and lunch.

So that’s what you get out of the ACP.  An engaged, devoted community, new approaches, better results.  And that’s the real benefit.

The best looking, most interesting ACP local chapter in America.  Click to enlarge.

The best looking, most interesting ACP local chapter in America. Click to enlarge.

For more information – including where your nearest chapter meets – visit the ACP website and click on the Membership tab at the top.

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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 to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

Return of the Association of Contingency Planners Webinar Series: Just in Time for Wildfire and Tropical Storm Season

ACP-logo-onlyThe extremely popular webinar series hosted by the Association of Contingency Planners debuted in 2009 with the goal of providing interesting and genuinely educational (read: “not a sales pitch”) free webinars to members – and hopefully future members – on a monthly basis.  Since that time, thousands of people have attended the dozens of webinars and the response has always been extremely positive.  And by “extremely positive,” I seem to remember a total of about 3 or 4 attendees indicating in the post-webinar surveys that they found the webinars to be less than good or great and the majority of the respondents rated the content as excellent.

not-roteWe’re proud to announce that Continuity Housing will begin sponsoring the resurrected series when it returns on Tuesday, August 12th.  Personally I’m elated because I produced and often emceed the series every month for more than two years after it first started and I really and truly get a kick out of sharing valuable continuity and general knowledge information with people.  (A perfect example.)

Understand this:  these are not rote presentations of dry material, checklists or procedures.  You will find yourself at many if not most of them with that “Wow, I did not know that” feeling.  And they are very definitely not sales pitches . . . well, except for about a 20-second reminder of who the sponsor is.   On purpose we tend to keep the webinars on the short side of 25 to 45 minutes and we always host them mid-morning on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday so they’re easy to catch, although we will always provide the recorded versions of each one on both the ACP site and on the Continuity Housing YouTube channel.

register-button

Granted, my enthusiasm for next month’s webinar may have a slight bias to it but it’s a perfect learning opportunity for anyone involved with a potential continuity deployment for their company.  The title of the webinar is “Securing Guaranteed Hotel Rooms For Your Organization In a Deployment: A Tale of Two Companies” and it’s a gritty review of the specific lessons learned by two different companies that chose two very different housing management plans before the Spam hit the fan.  A few details from the webinar description: “This is not an abstract session. Instead, you’ll learn the exact steps taken with regard to housing by these two large corporations and we’ll discuss what worked and what didn’t. There are more than 60 negotiable terms in a hotel’s group booking contract, and this session will equip you with creative, unique ways to craft those contracts to your organization’s best advantage to fit the unique aspects of a crisis management booking. ”

With Q&A the webinar will run about 45 minutes, the presenter is Continuity Housing principal Michelle Lowther and you can register here.

I’ve known and worked with Michelle for almost 4 years and she’s an excellent presenter.  More than that, I respect both her and the value of the content of her presentations.  She doesn’t ever waste your time.  Ever.

Register now and we’ll see you on the 12th.  Almost as importantly send me your ideas for future webinars.  We like to keep them in the realm of BC/DR but I’d be happy to field any suggestions that help make all of us better planners, more valuable contributors to our organizations and better, more productive folks in general.

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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 to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

Attention! Free Stuff! (Well, Mostly…) Handy Links to Info and Apps for Business Continuity and Life in General

Seven years after Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, we’re all securely addicted to having a world of information in our pockets.  Even when there’s not an app per se for different services, the latest step in the evolution of smart phones is mobile versions of websites, so I just save them as bookmarks on the desktop of my phone.  As BC professionals, we must be able to quickly manifest and distill pertinent information to help our stakeholders make crucial decisions during a crisis.  My goal with this piece is to include not only the obvious and most logical apps and links but to get you to think of how you can use different resources in different ways than you have before.

It pains me that we live in a time when I have to start by saying that Continuity Housing does not endorse, recommend or vouch for the accuracy or validity of the following services yadda yadda.  Sheesh.

Disclaimer #2: the more regional links provided here are for those of us in the Houston area, since that’s where Continuity Housing is based.  Okay – on to the really important stuff.

go-take-a-classFirst and foremost, a variety of regional utility providers now offer mobile versions of their outage maps, some of which include estimates on when power will be restored to specific areas.  Check your organization’s provider to see if they have one.  If they don’t, ask them why.

There are a variety of free and fairly reliable weather sources including JustWeather (website) and WeatherBug (website and app), some of which allow you to customize the automatically pushed alerts based on time of day and type and severity of threat(s), although JustWeather’s coverage is currently limited to a small number of cities.  Your local TV stations might also provide free or inexpensive weather apps that are more attuned, and therefore probably more accurate, to your more immediate location.  I prefer the AccuWeather  version that many of the ABC affiliates provide.  iMap Weather Radio is another good app that I use and not too  pricey at $4.99

Live in quake country?  The American Red Cross has a good app that provides information on recent events, how to prepare and what to do after one hits.  They also have similar apps that are geared towards tornadoes  and wildfires.

Whether you and your team are deploying on the road or not, the Gas Buddy app helps you find the lowest gas prices in your immediate vicinity – although the accuracy and whether the information is current relies on user participation.  Crowdsourcing when you’re running on empty isn’t the best option but the app is free.  Hot tip: by checking the time stamps on the updates you can see which stations are actually open.

There are a bunch of first aid apps that provide basic instruction on how to provide emergency medical assistance should the need arise, although you get two BC demerits if you don’t already know CPR.  I like First Aid Pocket Guide (below left) because of the way they’ve designed the progression of actions based on different types of medical problems.  Wiki has a more generalized instant how-to app but it will also tell you how to deliver a baby.  And don’t forget the version for pets.

first-aid-app-screen-shotAlong the same line, Medical Emergency Response is a relatively new “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” app that provides one-touch notification of the fact that you need help to one or more pre-programmed contacts as soon as you hit the icon.  It also dials 911 so you’d need to use good judgment on when to activate it.  I’m a little on the fence about how this could best be used after a disaster and I’m curious to know what the rate of accidental activations is but it might apply to your situation or that of a loved one.  And what happens if someone finds you unconscious?  There’s an app for that, although you should so very totally already have a clearly delineated ICE (In Case of Emergency) number loaded into your phone’s contact list. That one’s three bucks but it also allows you to include information for first responders on any medical conditions you have as well as your insurance info.

Survival Pocket Ref is a catch-all “quick reference guide on basic survival, evasion, first aid and recovery information” that I have on my phone and it’s only 99 cents.

Worried your car might break down or you might get a flat tire from all the windblown debris and broken stuff after a powerful storm, a painful lesson I learned while touring some of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans after Katrina?  There are several apps for that but seriously, go take a class.  At the very least learn how to change a tire, safely use jumper cables and at least temporarily restore your car’s radiator to operating status.  And in addition to all the other stuff you should have ready to go already (go read that one; it’s really good), always, always keep a fully charged standard size fire extinguisher, jumper cables and powerful flash light in your trunk.

Speaking of driving, Google Maps now include a decent traffic overlay but I usually rely on this one because it’s based on embedded road sensors and camera observations.  Even medium-sized metro areas now have similar municipally-provided data.  Check and see what might be available by simply searching for “(my town) traffic map,” compare different maps for accuracy from time to time and definitely pre-load the one you choose on your phone.  I use mine several times a week, even when hell isn’t breaking loose, and it’s a real time-saver.

Speaking of hell breaking loose, this one you just have to look at to get an idea of what’s going on.  It’s zoomable but you can also hit the root URL and select specific regions.  I’ve heard it referred to as “crisis porn” but glancing at it every so often helps keep things in perspective although it also makes me a little jittery.  And yes, somebody else provides a mobile version.

Finally, those of us in hurricane country know about Whataburger’s admirable allegiance to their own “last to close / first to open” policy and hitting their store locator at whataburger.com comes in handy when you need a break from the canned tuna and Triscuits.  Same for Academy Sports and Outdoors or the big-box sporting chain in your region.  Think batteries, cots, coolers and portable lighting for those of you who didn’t prepare ahead of time but expect competition for whatever is left on the shelves.

Which ones did I forget and what similar links do you use?  BC resilience thrives on all of us sharing what works best and we’ll post an updated list based on your input.  And remember, if you can’t find or load the links or apps that you want to have in case there’s an emergency, ask the closest 15-year-old.  They can do it faster than you can change the batteries in your flashlight.

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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 to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.