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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

$500 Million In Losses In The Last Week. Is Your Company Deployed Because of The Blizzard?

This article in The Boston Globe about massive economic losses due to severe weather is a couple of days old but the only thing that’s not current about it is, ironically, the verb tense.  “Caused” should be updated to “still causing” given that for the third Monday in a row – with a couple of other smaller systems thrown into the mix in the interim – massive amounts of snow are falling in the northeast U.S. causing schools, highways and many, many businesses to shut down.

FEMA-declaresGranted, that figure pales in comparison to the damage caused by a typical hurricane.  1991’s hurricane Bob is the 32nd costliest storm in recorded U.S. history with more than $2 billion in damages but have you ever even heard of Bob?  Nonetheless, $500 million is a lot of money.  And the northeast U.S. isn’t faring any better this week.  Cindy Fitzgibbon, Boston meteorologist with WCVB, said this morning that prior to January 23rd, Boston had only received about 5″ of snow this season but more than 6 feet of it in the 18 days since.

Given that severe weather is the number one reason FEMA declares disasters in the U.S., it makes me wonder how many companies have had to finally deploy staff to fail-over sites in order to ensure division or enterprise continuity.  Similar in scale if not in origin, it reminds me of Continuity Housing’s handling of the urgent, massive and substantially prolonged need for deployment housing following the tragic Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010.  At the peak of the response – which itself lasted four years  – housing management was provided for thousands of people each night – month after month – saving millions of dollars for our client, not to mention sparing them the headache of managing the logistics of whose head was on which pillow in what building, as well as a nightmarish stack of invoices.

Photo: wn.com

Snow in Boston this week. Photo: wn.com

Is your company or organization currently deploying staff to keep operations running smoothly in response to the blizzards?  If so, how’s it going?  Comment (anonymously if you prefer) below.  Business continuity management only improves with each shared experience and that’s the permanent goal: improving the solutions that we provide for our employers, our clients, our vendors, our employees and their families (and even their pets, if necessary).  Here’s hoping the onslaught from Mother Nature lets up in the coming days and weeks.  After all, the spring severe weather season is right around the corner.  And then comes June 1st.

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Both of the most recent webinars in the Association of Contingency Planners webinar series are now up and available for viewing at your leisure.  Complete descriptions for both are available at the links below where you can watch.

  • Recent Developments: ISO/Technical Committee 292, Security. Watch here.
  • Bioterrorism Preparedness for Businesses: How to Stay Operational, Even During an Anthrax Attack. Watch here.

Posted by Fred Rogers on 10 February 2015.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Texas Ranks Lowest In Disaster Preparedness, FEMA’s Not Ready And Other ‘Highlights’ To Keep You On Your Toes

A colleague recently forwarded me an article detailing the results of an interesting study* that estimates how well the citizens of each state in the U.S. are prepared to survive a natural disaster versus how prone each state is to suffer natural disasters of different types.  Vermont ranked as “most prepared” and Wyoming as “most safe” whereas Texas came in dead last in both of those rankings.  (Texas ended up in the exact middle of last year’s analysis of how well each of the states would be able to resist a zombie apocalypse.  Certainly welcome news for those of us who live here.)  Frankly, I was a little surprised by the results.  Considering the number of hurricanes and tropical storms that have impacted the Gulf Coast over the last 130 years – not to mention the constant threat of severe flooding and tornadoes – I’d always thought of those in the region as being a fairly well-prepared bunch.

job-securityWho is prepared?  Evidently people who live in states where heavy snowfall is a much more common occurrence.   Folks in Wyoming, Illinois, Vermont, New Hampshire and Alaska ranked among the most prepared.    Annual blizzards are a fact of life in those states so preparedness is a lot less about an event and much more about a wise lifestyle overall.  Relevant to other types of severe weather – which is the single highest cause of significant business interruptions according to yet another study published last week in The Washington Post – especially with regard to how people calculate the odds of experiencing another severe hurricane, most tend to fall within one of two highly diverse camps: those who think “we just had a bunch of those so we’re probably safe for a while” and on the other end, the “we haven’t had a hurricane in forever so I’m just not worried about it” crowd.  Both equally wrong and dangerous.

That same study ranks Houston as one of the most disaster-prone cities in the country (although Dallas, which is much more prone to hosting tornadoes, was evidently in the crosshairs four years ago) with 27 declared disasters of a wide variety – hurricane, flood, fire, one tornado – more than any year since 1964.  Several other areas, including Los Angeles with 54 disasters in the same time span, fared even worse.  It’s enough to make you think that our forebears intentionally chose some of the most dangerous places in the country to set up shop.  Other places to leave immediately include central Oklahoma (for severe storms), northern North Dakota (floods), Florida and the Mississippi River Delta (hurricanes).

All this punctuated by yet another study published by the GAO itself and reported on elsewhere that says that despite their huge budget, relatively recent experience and odious public relations history (remember Katrina?), overall FEMA is still not prepared.  According to the report, the Agency should stipulate specific policies for local communities to follow.  But that’s simply another reminder that crisis preparedness and response are best handled by local and regional authorities.

What does all this mean for business continuity professionals?  In a nutshell, job security.  But also yet another reminder that thorough preparedness is a mindset and not event-specific.

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There’s still time to register for the first ACP webinars of the year:

  • Recent Developments: ISO/Technical Committee 292, Security this Thursday the 29th.  Register.
  • Bioterrorism Preparedness for Businesses: How to Stay Operational, Even During an Anthrax Attack which is next Wednesday, February 4th.  Register.

More information and links to register (free, as always) are here.

Posted by Fred Rogers on 27 January 2015.

* 02 February update: After I posted this piece, the methodology of the survey indicated was called into question by quite a few business continuity professionals for a number of reasons.  Similar to how “America’s Fattest City” is annually awarded based on a loose estimation of the number of fast food restaurants versus the much lower number of fitness clubs in that year’s so-called fattest city, I concede that the way the results were derived in the disaster survey indicated may not have been the most scientifically irrefutable.

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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.

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 South Texas Chapter Holiday Luncheon: No Dancing Bears, Otherwise Awesome

Luncheon.  Not a word anyone gets particularly excited about.  Industry association luncheon . . . you’re beginning to lose me.  Industry association holiday luncheon?  Okay, now I’m listening.  The South Texas Chapter of the Association of Contingency Planners hosted its annual holiday luncheon on Tuesday and here’s why it was great:

  • The annual recap was helpful and informative, including a report on a 20% increase in membership.
  • The outlook for next year’s events, including a Big New Idea, was motivating.
  • New connections between professionals were made, established connections were solidified and business got done.
  • The chocolate cake was stellar.

ACP-luncheon-pull

The luncheon was held at a nice restaurant in the Galleria area and despite the season, traffic wasn’t terrible and one of the things I really get a kick out of at ACP events is that, by golly, they start on time and they end on time.  That’s BC people for you.  After the half-hour hangout, we were promptly seated and fed and then for the next hour, various board members made informal presentations about the state of the chapter.

MVP Rich Bruklis. Photo: John Small

MVP Rich Bruklis. Photo: John Small

And that hour flew by like a shot as we heard all about the year in review, board announcements, who won the annual MVP award (presented to the much-deserved Rich Bruklis of CloudReplica for the outstanding job he did organizing so many great events this year, many of which I blogged about previously), a membership spotlight, educational updates, the presentation of the certificate of appreciation, a massive housing discount arranged by and the results of the very successful “bring a guest” campaign.  And of course the requisite raffle.  There were five different prizes and they were all great, except for the part where I didn’t win any of them.  But mostly it flew by because the content was outstanding and the future looks bright for the South Texas Chapter, including plans for a new and significant half-day symposium at the end of March.

Our 2014 goals were set and achieved, new goals have been set for next year, the chapter is growing and motivated and then we were all late getting back to work because almost all of us hung out for too long afterwards catching up and doing actual business.  Business that benefits our careers, our organizations and the people we’re responsible for.

A great holiday turnout. Photo: Fred Rogers

A great holiday turnout. Photo: Fred Rogers

So if you get the chance, and even if you have to go looking for one, make time for one of those industry association holiday luncheons.  BCP folks don’t slack and those meetings are worth going to.  And if you find out they’re serving chocolate cake, you just might see me there.

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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.

BCP Smart: Make Early December Count So You Can Enjoy The Holidays (and 2015) Even More

It’s only early December but many of us have already experienced a substantial winter weather disruption from last week’s near-historic snowfall and then flooding in the Northeast U.S. And then there’s this week’s crazy amount of rain on the West Coast.  Barring any other similar problems, here are a few ideas to make the most of what’s usually a slow month so that you can leave the office AT the office when the holidays start.

  • buckleSpend a day summarizing this year’s numbers: quantify results and subjectively but accurately reiterate the value to your organization in terms of dollars saved and the crises – big and small – that were avoided or successfully mitigated. Give your boss, and your career, a boost with a short summary of why intelligent BCP counts for your company.
  • Finalize your 2015 budget and consider those previously unconsidered solutions that could very well make 2015’s year-end report even shinier. [Insert shameless plug for the wild range of solutions and savings provided by Continuity Housing here.]
  • After you get those two done, if you find yourself with a little free time on the clock, as always go for some professional self-improvement. Check out Continuity Housing’s YouTube channel for videos on a wide range of topics that you may have missed this year.   We’re always working to help make your job easier and your value to your company even more bullet-proof, and this is where we keep the good stuff.  Well, except for the secret sauce.  We don’t put that in writing anywhere.
  • Ponder a new certification or two for 2015 and think about how you could get the company to co-sponsor or fully fund it. And not all CE efforts have to be ‘official’ in order for them to make you a more valuable contributor to your organization.  Explore CERT training – search local options available by ZIP here – or some of the options available via Ready.gov, which can be a bit on the remedial side for most of us but a little recurrent training never hurt anybody.
  • Consider a life skills or survival course. Get yourself and all of your key, cross-trained managers updated with an in-office, half-day CPR and emergency response course.  The Red Cross offers training but in many regions of the country there are even more in-depth immediate response courses available at a fairly low cost.  What skill have you always admired in others but never tackled yourself?  Make that an achievable resolution for next year as a gift to yourself.
  • If you’re not yet a member, take 5 minutes and go join the Association of Contingency Planners. It’s not expensive, you will benefit from it and . . . it looks good on your LinkedIn profile and résumé.
  • Make your New Year’s resolutions. Admittedly, I never make them.  Bear with me here…  I prefer systems to goals in order to create patterns that lead to success.  But resolutions can be good for thinking outside the box.  (For instance, I’ve long wanted to come up with a replacement to the phrase ‘outside the box’ because it’s tired.)  How about you consider making just two resolutions for how you can better yourself and the processes your coworkers use to increase the value of all of you to your organization?  Easy enough to do, and it involves the whole team (for those of you lucky enough to have one of those).
  • Finally and right before you head out the door for the year, consider hosting a “best new suggestion” contest with your coworkers for what your group might explore in the new year to make your business continuity plan more resilient. No need to award a trip to Tahiti or even an iPad; in general, people get pretty excited about a $25 cash card.  I know I do.  Free money is awesome.
  • All this just a little too ambitious? At the very least, learn something valuable while you’re surfing the web waiting for the 20th or so to get here!

I’m certainly not saying you have to do all of these things, but I hope you’ll pick (and do) your two or three favorites.  Then buckle down for the next couple of weeks and say goodbye to 2014 with a confident smile.

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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.