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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.

Today In History: It’s The Fifth Anniversary of My First “Time To Get Ready For Hurricane Season” Blog!

Today is Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexican heritage and pride and is observed throughout Mexico and parts of the southwest U.S.  It’s also the fifth year in a row that I’ve posted on one blog or another about the need to be ready for the upcoming hurricane season – which starts June 1st – or, more importantly, for that single storm that shows up, breaks your town, causes extensive damage and screws up your company’s ability to keep making money.

Actually, if you’re a business continuity professional with assets or responsibilities along the Gulf of Mexico or East Coasts, right now probably seems a bit late to be reviewing, updating and improving your plans for the upcoming season.  But it’s never too late to start.  (Usually.  The onslaught of Tropical Storm Allison’s 40-plus inches of rain in the first week of June in 2001 proved that one of the few aspects of Atlantic basin cyclone prediction that’s right on the money is when the first one might show up.  And June 1st is just 26 days away.)

smile-emmett

Smiling Harris County Judge Ed Emmett reminds us that the clock is ticking. Image: KTRK – ABC Houston.

Last year’s hurricane season outlook was a bust, and that’s putting it mildly.  Almost all of the major forecasting entities that issue season forecasts predicted that it would be a phenomenally busy year and that didn’t even come close to happening.  In fact, it was the first season since 1968 not to have produced at least one storm above a category one.  Sure enough, this year they’re predicting a slower than usual season.  I’m not saying that there’s an inverse pattern at work.  Just that it’s not the season you must prepare for, it’s that one damn storm.

This year all of us east of the Rockies had a much colder-than-usual winter and for many of us it’s still much cooler than we usually experience in early May.  Yet another reason there might be a little procrastinating going on.  And procrastination is anathema to surviving a major blow.

So get ready.  And remember that no plan is complete without a pre-negotiated, guaranteed contract that ensures your critical personnel have somewhere to stay in the event of a deployment.  Historical seasons generate clichés but one that never changes is that you need to make sure your people have somewhere dependable to get plenty of rest when you need them to be operating at their peak.  Let us know if you’re interested in a free 30-minute consultation about your deployment housing needs.

Think positively but be ready.  And never, ever take a ‘mere’ tropical storm for granted.

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Just in time for the start of the hurricane season, we’re hosting a webinar on Thursday, May 22nd entitled “Surviving The Aftermath: Post-Storm Safety and Electric Utility Familiarization” presented by Warren Rogers, Safety and Health Program Administrator for Connecticut Light & Power, a veteran speaker and respected expert on the topic of electricity safety.

Attend this webinar.  It’s only about 25 minutes long and after you watch it, you’ll be stunned about how often you and your family have come closer to being electrocuted than you ever thought.  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.

Reporting From An Evacuation: What It’s Really Like To Be Onsite of a Business Disruption Deployment

In days of yore, one might be a dentist or an attorney or a blacksmith or a plumber.  However, in our ever more specialized business world, many of us often have to explain a little more diligently what it is that we do for a living.  For us it’s no different.  “Wait, you provide what for who and when??”

Karen specializes in managing the deployment logistics for assets in the deepwater Gulf for several years.  She’s an expert in this niche market with multiple deployments and Continuity Housing depends on her for offshore deployment perfection.

Karen specializes in managing the deployment logistics for assets in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico for several years. She’s an expert in this niche market with multiple deployments and Continuity Housing depends on her for offshore deployment perfection.

So we asked Karen Williams of Conference Direct to go in to a little more detail about what a deployment housing expert does.  Karen joined ConferenceDirect in 2007 and prior to that spent more than 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy followed by almost 10 years as the Business Manager/Conference Manager for a national healthcare association.  As with everyone on our team, she has a substantial number of years of experience dealing with the unexpected during deployments.

Continuity Housing: What kinds of events typically trigger a deployment?

Karen Williams: [Most of the] events that typically trigger a deployment [for the clients I work with] are weather-related.  I’ve dealt with tropical storms or hurricanes that pose a threat to assets in the Gulf of Mexico.  An “atypical” trigger would be the large oil spill related to the Deepwater Horizon incident where we were deployed for extended periods over an 18-month period.

CH: What’s the largest deployment you’ve ever managed?

KW: We’ve managed one that encompassed over 45,000 personnel being deployed and in need of housing & concierge services but normal deployments I’ve managed deal with anywhere from 200-225 personnel.

CH: What do your typical duties include, say, with the assets in the deepwater Gulf?

KW: My typical duties are three-fold:  pre-deployment, onsite and post-deployment.

Pre-deployment, wherein I’m in weekly contact with the Asset Managers who would be affected in the case of a weather-related incident which would cause a deployment.  I verify the number of personnel who would require housing, confirm contact information and answer questions they may have.

On-Site for which I’m at the heliport (or whatever point of entry is used) to ensure that personnel know where they will be staying during the duration of the deployment.  I also coordinate rooming lists between the Asset Manager and the various hotels, serve as a single point-of-contact for all communications to the hotels, mediate any concerns between the deployed personnel and the hotels and monitor that the rooming lists are being adhered to and that the personnel are actually staying in the hotels they were assigned.  I meet with each of the hotel managers.  Once personnel start returning to their assigned assets, I ensure that they’ve properly checked out of their assigned hotels and that the hotels have an accurate room-night count.

Post-deployment when I follow up with each Asset Manager to make sure their needs were met and gather any feedback they may have.  I also gather all information needed to prepare the invoicing for the hotels.

CH: What do your atypical duties include?

KW: Anything you can imagine, from breaking up fights at 2am in one of the hotels because someone decided they didn’t want to share a room and started swearing at the front desk clerk, to politely letting someone know why we aren’t authorized to provide housing for his wife & kids at the client’s expense.

CH: How much sleep do you actually get when you’re deployed?

KW: Seeing how my phone usually starts ringing at 5am and most times doesn’t stop until about 11pm during a deployment, I typically sleep about 4-5 hours a night.

CH: What’s involved in the preparation for a deployment?

KW: Once I’ve been given the green light to deploy, I first call all the Asset Managers, get their exact rooming requirements and let them know that we have their hotels ready for them.  I email each one a customized rooming list which outlines their hotel assignment and the exact number of room types they are allowed (doubles and/or kings).  They complete the list, return it to me and I email to the appropriate hotel.  I grab my bag (always packed & ready), make flight reservations or gas up my car to drive, and am on my way to the deployment site.

Weather-related deployments usually have about a 24-48 hour notice prior to the time I have to be onsite.  I track the weather right along with the client’s trackers just so I can keep a step ahead.

CH: What’s your favorite city and why, relevant to ease of amenities for clients?

KW: So far, my favorite city based on ease of amenities for clients is New Orleans.  Everything is in walking distance for personnel who had been evacuated.  Second favorite city would be Houma, LA.  Even though it’s a much smaller area, most of the hotels we used were in one central location, had in-house dining options, ample room amenities and were very easy to deal with.  Local dining options were not hard to find.

CH: What’s the oddest situation you’ve ever had to encounter?

KW: The oddest situation I had to deal with was an individual who didn’t feel he had to share a room (which was required by the client).  He decided to argue with the front desk clerk at his assigned hotel, cuss at her very loudly and repeatedly and even tried to jump over the counter to approach her.  His supervisor and I had to intervene and eventually he left the hotel to provide for his own accommodations.

CH: What’s the ‘real’ value of the service you provide?

KW: It’s two-fold.  Most importantly, I provide a peace-of-mind transition for personnel who are being evacuated under a stressful situation.  They know that they’re going to be taken care of, have a roof over their heads and they don’t have to lift a finger.  But I also provide a one-stop shop for the hotels so they can streamline their check-in process for the evacuees and also have a streamlined invoicing process after the evacuees check-out.

williams-pullCH: What’s the longest deployment you’ve ever managed?

KW: The longest deployment I’ve even been involved in managing was the response to the Deepwater Horizon incident.  The housing & concierge services portion of this deployment lasted 18 months and I spent a total of 3,500 hours over the course of 315 days onsite.  The longest deployment separate from that has been 7 days onsite.

CH: What’s the most interesting or challenging part of your profession?

KW: I love working with all different kinds of people and being able to make their jobs and their lives easier and less stressful.  Anything I can do to help has always been my way of life.

CH: What’s the most critical personal asset that you personally use in managing a successful deployment?

KW: Maintaining a calm, organized, level demeanor at all times is the most critical asset I use during every deployment.  [Although I spent almost 10 years managing conference for a national healthcare association,] I didn’t have any prior hotel or hospitality training before joining the Continuity Housing Team.  I would say my 20+ years in the military has best prepared me for handling my concierge logistics duties.

CH: Have you ever had to cancel a personal event in order to meet a deployment requirement?

KW: During the incident in the Gulf, I did miss some birthdays and holidays; everyone who was a part of that experience did all we could to help out.  For the weather-related deployments, I’ve only had to reschedule one personal event.  I have a very understanding family!

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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.