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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.