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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.

Active Shooter Response Training; The State of Readiness in the Private Sector – This Week in Business Continuity

This past April and again last month, the Association of Contingency Planners webinar series hosted by Continuity Housing featured detailed, hour-long webinars on how to respond in an active shooter situation; hit those links to watch the recording of either or both.  Frankly we’d planned on HPD-active-shooterleaving the topic alone for a while but Thursday’s mass shooting in Chattanooga serves as another tragic reminder that the possibility of encountering a similar situation continues to be very real for all of us.  Those videos are long but make time to watch them.  For a shorter look at what to do in an active shooter situation, the Houston Police Department produced a 6-minute video a few years ago that you should watch and share with anyone you care about.

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We now have six more ACP webinars scheduled through the fall but it’s not too late to register for the next one which is tomorrow, July 22nd at 11: 30 Eastern / 10:30 Central.  It’s called “Case Studies: Community Efforts to Enhance Workplace Preparedness for Bioterrorism” by Harlan Dolgin and you can register here. In September, Harlan will present on the topic of general preparedness for a flu pandemic and we’ll share the link to register for that one as soon as it’s scheduled.

The next Continuity Housing webinar is “The State of Readiness in the Private Sector – A Train Wreck in 2015 . . . What That Means to You” by Bo Mitchell.  It’s on Wednesday, August 12th at 11:30 Eastern / 10:30 Central and you can find out more and register here.

Always register even if you can’t attend the live presentation so that you automatically receive the link to the recording.

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I mentioned a while back that I’d had a long talk with Bo about proper emergency preparedness ranging on topics both philosophic and practical.  Rounding out the discussion I asked who in each organization is responsible for insuring the organization is EAP (Emergency Action Plan) compliant and how they go about learning what it takes.  “The responsible party is the CEO. But he or she probably doesn’t know that. Think about that. Then know that, in most organizations, no one is assigned this responsibility. Or if they are, it is spread across silos. It could be HR. Or Security. Or Safety. Or Facilities. Every organization has a different answer.

“Know that one group that is not responsible for compliance: your landlord.  If you rent your space or any of your spaces in a multi-facility organization, know that your landlord’s planning – if they have any – is not substitutable under law for your plan. Nor does this make sense operationally speaking. It’s a fact that in almost all multi-tenant buildings, the landlord has no plan or it’s incompetent. Landlords never train. Often, they don’t even drill. Also, no law in any state or city or at the federal level permits your landlord’s plan to be your plan. The regulations always start, ‘The employer shall.’ Never ‘The landlord shall.’  All landlords do this badly. Anyone who says to you ‘Oh, that’s the landlord’s responsibility’ is – by definition and by law – negligent.”

If you’d like a copy of 911 Consulting’s “10 Commandments of Emergency Planning” and/or their “10 Commandments of Emergency Training,” email Bo at BoMitchell@911Consulting.net.

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We talked last week about prepping in advance – specifically, about pre-negotiating hotel contracts well in advance of a deployment.  Not only does it stave off price gouging and ugly contract terms but it makes for a far smoother deployment.  “But then it hit me,” says Continuity Housing’s principal, Michelle Lowther.  “It’s the people who THINK they have a plan that are in the most danger.”  So let’s back it up a bit.  Why is that the case, how do you know if you’re in that very boat and most importantly, how do you get out before said boat sinks?

For that, we turn back to Michelle.  “If an organization thinks they have it covered, they usually fall into one of two buckets.  Bucket One: small to mid-size businesses with only a handful of people to relocate who think they can do it online.  Bucket Two: large to mega-size businesses with high annual travel spend, strong hotel brand relationships at the global level and a travel management company that handles all their business travel.  The people in the first bucket are probably right.  They might be able to get online and eke out a few rooms here and there when they need them, provided things like room rate, pre-determined hotel location and pet acceptance are not priorities to them.  It’s the people in the second bucket who concern me.”  More about that next week, but in the meantime, if you think you might be in Bucket Two, here’s a hot tip.  “Check any hotel paperwork you have for the phrase ‘based on availability.’  I bet it’ll be in there somewhere,” says Michelle.

Wanna put this to the numbers?  Email me and we’ll send you a case study that we’ll explore a little more next week.  It’s a doozie.

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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.

A Really Cool Business Continuity Webinar: Maintaining Business Continuity at The Busiest Foreign Seaport in the U.S.

Capt. Woodring

Capt. Woodring

Update, 24 September 2014: If you missed this webinar, you can watch it here now on YouTube.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a great boat tour of a segment of the Port of Houston that I went on along with the Southeast Texas Chapter of the Association of Contingency Planners.  The tour was educational but the presentation afterwards from Capt. Marcus Woodring, the Port’s HSSE director, was even better.  Several of you asked if it would be possible for us to secure Capt. Woodring for a webinar.  It was and we did.

The free, 45-minute webinar – as interesting as it will be educational – will be at 10:30 Central on September 24th.  You can register here right now.

During the webinar you’ll see how the Port of Houston prepares for and overcomes a wildly diverse range of challenges to its 24/7 continuity of operations including potential issues arising from fire, explosions, medical assistance and transport, aviation, ecological concerns, legalities, international personnel, collisions both on and offshore, spills, leaks, the possibility of terrorism, inclement or destructive weather . . . even contingencies for multiple but different types of events occurring simultaneously.

The Port of Houston is a 25-mile-long complex of public and private facilities located just a few hours by ship from the Gulf of Mexico. The port is ranked:

  • 1st in the United States in foreign waterborne tonnage
  • 1st in U.S. imports
  • 1st in U.S. export tonnage
  • 2nd in the U.S. in total tonnage

register-buttonIt’s the nation’s leading breakbulk port (yeah, I had to look it up, too), handling 65% of all major U.S. project cargo. The Port is comprised of public terminals which are owned, managed and leased by the Port of Houston Authority and 150-plus private companies along the 52-mile long Houston Ship Channel.  (Get an idea of how big it is.  Get another fascinating look here which is the same link as the one for the photo below.)  Each year, more than 200 million tons of cargo move through the Port of Houston carried by more than 8,000 vessels and 200,000 barge calls. As one of the world’s busiest ports, the Port of Houston is a large and vibrant component of the regional economy and ship channel-related businesses contribute more than 1.2 million jobs throughout Texas. (Source: portofhouston.com)

Screen grab from the video Night Run of The Houston Ship Channel by Houston Pilot Lou Vest.  Click to play; 2:27.

Screen grab from the video Night Run of The Houston Ship Channel by Houston Pilot Lou Vest. Click to play; 2:27.

Capt. Woodring, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and Managing Director of the Port’s HSSE branch, including the Port of Houston firefighters and HazMat Response Teams; the Port Police Dept. with 53 sworn officers and six Port Security Officers; the Safety Dept. with four specialists; all admin and budgeting functions; three Facility Security Officers; and an Emergency Manager supervising 8 Dispatchers.

This is a great webinar, one where you’ll learn a lot and enjoy your time.  Register 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 to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Webinar Reminder: Establishing a Fail-Over Site – Perfecting the Equation of Where to Work AND Where to Sleep

Don’t forget to register for our 40-minute webinar, this Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM Central.  This will be an informative and fast-paced webinar wherein we follow one corporation’s successful fail-over from their headquarters in Houston to their fully functioning recovery site in Dallas. We’ll show how more than 50 of the company’s employees are able to easily and quickly deploy and benefit from the pre-assembly of the following requirements so that they’re able to keep the company operational despite a category 3 hurricane making landfall near Houston:

• Fully-functioning, comfortable working facilities using existing owned or leased ‘skeleton’ infrastructure
• Secure data access to your company network
• Ample parking
• Backup on-demand generator (not pre-installed permanent generator(s) requiring day-to-day maintenance)
• Fully functional mobile backup facilities at the fail-over site for expanded user workspace or additional data center infrastructure capacity
• Single-call activation of a team of hotel experts to manage all housing related issues during a deployment
• Pre-negotiated housing facilities at pre-inspected and approved hotels
• Guaranteed room nights for all employees
• Pre-established hotel rates
• Managed billing for all hotel expenses
• Exclusive logistical support staff to help with any on-site hotel needs

register-button This webinar will be presented by Steven O’Neal of Rentsys Recovery Services and Michelle Lowther of Continuity Housing, both of whom are long-time veterans of successful, durable corporate disaster recovery management.

Even if you’re unable to attend, we encourage you to register so that you receive a link to the recorded version after the presentation. This webinar is free to attend and you can share this invitation with anyone you’d like to. We’ll see you on the 18th!

Register here:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5956251653072421888