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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Faye

Faye’s fairly annoying path. Graphic: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Just kidding.

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

watch

Image: Apple

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

***

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

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

T.S. Ana. Radar image: WLTX

T.S. Ana. Radar image: WLTX

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

***

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

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

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

    Map: NOAA. Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

***

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

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

Hotel Contract Must-Haves . . . And A Tropical Storm That Can’t Read A Calendar – This Week in Business Continuity

Image: IPS MeteoStar via Eric Berger.

Image: IPS MeteoStar via Eric Berger. Click to enlarge.

You may have heard by now that a tropical storm may form near the Carolinas later this week.  Yes, it’s May and hurricane season doesn’t start for another 3 ½ weeks.  And never mind all the seasonal outlooks up to this point that predict the tropical Atlantic is supposed to remain fairly quiet this year.  Seriously – never mind those.  I like this early blooming storm because it reminds us that it’s not the season we prepare for, it’s the one storm.  Nonetheless, the chances for development are minimal and if it does develop, chances are that it will just be a rainmaker.  And, as my friend and Houston Chronicle Science Editor (and newly-minted certified meteorologist) Eric Berger points out, it’s still expected to be a quiet season.

Not that it’s the season that we prepare for . . .

***

In other news, Happy Star Wars Day!  (“May the fourth.”  Get it?)  I know I’m a day late but it lets me tie in how Continuity Housing brings The Force to our clients by leveraging our alliance with ConferenceDirect to the benefit of those same clients.  For those of you who’ve never heard of ConferenceDirect (said Force), they’re the industry leader in providing “professional event management and meeting planning services that save you time and money, guaranteed.”  And if you’ve ever visited the Continuity Housing website you know that we work 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. End of commercial.  But read on.

A few weeks ago Conference Direct hosted their Annual Partnership Meeting (APM) in Dallas.  ConferenceDirect prides itself in being the one global source for its customers’ meeting needs.  As such, they place tremendous value on being consultative with their customers in matters that relate to meetings and travel.  Which is good because nearly the entire Continuity Housing staff attended the meeting. Their three different annual meetings – APM is the biggest – are part of ConferenceDirect’s 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 organizations time and money while better serving the constituents their clients are responsible for.

And, like our webinars, they use interesting, educational and entertaining speakers to help their customers blossom.  This year, for instance, they brought in The ONE Thing co-authors Jay Papasan and Gary Keller, founder and chairman of the board for Keller Williams Realty, to talk about the idea to “Go Big” with your goals and ensure every day you are doing the one thing that gets you to your goal. With all the “noise” of the day, it is imperative to prioritize the things that are getting you towards your goal . . . not distracting you from achieving them.  Read more about their book and the concept overall at the1thing.com.  Conference Direct brought in several other outstanding speakers and I’ll talk about those in the next posting.  Because learning how other people do things really well helps us tighten up on continuity plans on a constant basis.  For now though, suffice it to say that it was time well spent at the APM in Dallas, as literally hundreds of hotels from across the globe came to meet, do business and nurture relationships with the ConferenceDirect, and thus the Continuity Housing, staff.  More on that later, too.

***

Contracts are obnoxious and confusing because they contain terms like guaranteed no-shows, cancellation, early departure, attrition, comps, room block audits, direct billing, successors and assigns, force majeure, provision for and allowance of pets, indemnification, liquidated damages, hotel internet service details, first right of refusal and provisions to renegotiate.  In order to minimize the confusion, we’re starting a weekly series called Hotel Contract Must-Haves.  We’ll hit one topic a week and this week it’s the reality that a room night is a perishable good and why, as a business continuity planner, that concept is very, very important to you.

According to Continuity Housing principal Michelle Lowther, “If a hotel has 400 rooms and 30 of those go empty tonight, they lose forever the opportunity to make money on those 30 rooms.  As opposed to a manufacturing scenario, where a supplier’s production can fluctuate based on demand, hotels have the same number of rooms available every single night.  And once a given night passes, so does the hotel’s chance for revenue on any rooms that sit empty.  Because of that, hotels have perfected the art of bringing in the most profitable guests and group business [10+ rooms per night] to keep the hotel’s RevPAR [Revenue Per Available Room, which is the only way to truly compare hotels’ profitability] as high as possible. It’s like piecing together a puzzle for them.  Based on factors such as historical occupancy over a given period, arrival/departure pattern, current and forecasted occupancy at the time of the reservation request, market compression, client relationship with the hotel, number of days remaining during which the hotel could possibly book other business over the given period, and an analysis to quantify other business which they may turn away by “accepting” yours, hotels come up with length of stay and room rate restrictions to direct reservations into the most profitable buckets.  Which means that just because they tell you they’re sold out on a particular date or dates doesn’t necessarily mean they’re full.  It may just mean they aren’t taking reservations for that exact time period at the time of your request because they’re gambling that they can better optimize their revenue over those dates.  It’s possible that if you change your check-in or check-out date to a day earlier or a day later, voila, there might suddenly be a room available.

“From the business continuity standpoint,” she continues, “when you ask a hotel to hold a group of rooms for your company or even a single room for yourself, there’s no motivation for them to do so without a commitment on your part to pay for that room.  If you’re not going to pay for it, the hotel’s job is to find someone else who will.  So the concept of a room night being a perishable good is fundamental to negotiating any type of contingency arrangement with a hotel.  Once you have that down, there are more than 60 other negotiable terms in an average hotel contract, some of which can not only burn you financially but also impact the success of your overall deployment.  The most important thing you can do is make sure your contract covers ALL the what-ifs.”

Have you ever been denied a room block reservation or arrived to find your rooms aren’t available?  Tell us about it.  And feel free to ask any questions you have about guaranteeing the process so that you don’t have the same problems in the future.  We know a thing or two about it.

***

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

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

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

Steve Crimando

Steve Crimando

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

IMG_0483

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

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

IMG_0484

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

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

***

unfinbus-large

Source: iStock.

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

***

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

This Week in Business Continuity: Geotagging Your Every Move, Cyberattacks Here To Stay and The Real Cost of a Snow Day

An article in the Economist online about the recent Business Travel Show in London highlights a key issue for any business traveler: the future of geotagging devices and, more importantly, their place of prominence in each of our futures.  It certainly bears consideration.  A company’s ability to track each of its employees’ specific locations is becoming more and more an available option and will become, at least for willing participants, ever more ubiquitous within a very few years.  Those who aren’t willing to participate, it is assumed, will be invited to seek employment elsewhere.

Geotagging has been around for a while now but it was previously relegated to other activities such as geocaching and naval and aerial real-time navigation.  Now days the technology is being used to show each of us how to get where we’re going, to provide a host of locally available and even automated services for our convenience . . . and to track us.  Even as I type ‘geotag’ in the Word file as I write this, it’s telling me that the auto-correcting spellcheck is just fine with the word.

geolocationNot that the tech is without upsides.  One company is exploring sourcing real-time travel data directly from air traffic control even before the airlines announce any delays to passengers and using the information to proactively rebook connecting flights and/or book a hotel for those employees who will be affected.  A little spooky, sure, but definitely handy.  Or how about an app that gives you step-by-step (literally) directions from the jetway to a cab that’s already been booked for you upon landing?  Or this one:  “Once at the hotel, beacons that can recognise (sic) travelers’ phones will mean that there is no need to check-in at reception; the device will guide a traveler straight to his room, where, in concert with that room’s BLE transmitter, his phone will also act as his key. Once he is ensconced in his chamber, establishments can keep tabs on whether he has remained there (in which case they can offer deals on dinner and the like) or left the building (in which case they can send the maid up to clean the room).”  Change happens quickly these days.

How do you feel about all this tracking, even if we’re fairly powerless to stop the evolution and adoption?  Is the admittedly considerable convenience offered worth the sacrifice of yet a little more privacy in a world where privacy in general is becoming little more than a quaint historical notion?  And how might it apply to your organization’s continuity plan and communication protocols?

***

In other mildly disquieting news, fending off cyberattacks and potentially resultant disruptions will soon become a permanent and growing priority for chief information security officers and business continuity managers.  We all remember what happened to Sony last year.  It’s a good reminder to start or refine your continuity plans relevant to a possible hack because it can happen to any company without any warning and, seemingly, without any cause.  As well as a reminder to always, always keep your own digital nose clean, not only on the job but also on any social media you engage in.

***

And what’s the real cost of a snow day . . . or a whole series of them?  How about a billion dollars?  That’s the amount that IHS Global Insight estimates was lost in wages and profits this harrowing winter just in the state of Massachusetts alone.  Massachusetts, the seventh smallest state in the U.S.  Share that one at your next budgeting meeting should anyone question the need for a solid continuity plan.

***

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.