Ready – Fire – Aim

I have a terrific announcement as I post this blog.  My friend Bob Arnold, President and Executive Publisher at the Disaster Recovery Journal , invited me to join the DRJ’s blog-community.  So, future blogs that I write will be cross-posted with both my normal WordPress address ( ) as well as at the DRJ ( ).  I appreciate Bob’s interest and invitation and look forward to what future discussions may take place with the loyal readers of the DRJ.

I want to start this blog with something I recently read in an email newsletter/solicitation sent to me by a vendor in the recovery services business.  The vendor’s message started off with the following … ”There is no hard definition of what constitutes a disaster.  Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Some develop quickly, hitting full-force with little to no warning. While others loom on the horizon for an extended period of time”.

Hmmm, there’s no hard definition of what constitutes a disaster?  Really?

Ironically, over the past few months I’ve had discussions with others in the business continuity field about activations of plans based on “disasters” company management felt or assumed were taking place.  I find it interesting that within some organizations, while significant time, labor, and money is spent developing plans and conducting exercises, specifically defining what a disaster is, is often missing.  I believe that without such a definition, we are missing the middle piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

I know of a very large company that has a rather large business continuity program in place.  Their plans have been written for all organizations, enterprise wide, and exercised (not tested – and yes, there is a difference) once a year.  On paper (i.e. in a report to senior management) it all sounds good.  However, whenever Mother Nature decides to flex her prerogative, there is confusion due the lack of clear definition as to when plans should be activated and when they shouldn’t.  Subsequently, it becomes a “fire drill” for the business continuity team because in some instances the management team expects the plans to be implemented and in other cases not.  Ready –  Fire – Aim.

In order to ensure we maintain order and not chaos, there have to be guidelines that we follow.  One of those is under what circumstances we activate our plans.  And we can’t document those circumstances until we define what a disaster is.  Without a good definition we can’t be sure if the incident is a significant outage that many companies deal quite with as part of “normal operations” or is it more significant and in all likelihood going to exceed a “normal” outage threshold.

I’ve always liked the basic disaster definition that was part of the Disaster Recovery Institute International’s  training many years ago.  To be honest, I don’t know if they still use it today, but I really like it because it is simple and addresses key focal points to be considered.  See for yourself:

“A (sudden unplanned) calamitous event that causes great damage or loss.  In the business environment, it is any event that causes an inability on an organization’s part to provide the critical business functions for a predetermined period of time.”

I contend that while the generic definition is applicable to just about all organizations, in reality the final definition that’s put into practice may be different from business to business and even from organization to organization within a business.  What drives a good clear definition of course is the Risk and Business Impact Analysis (BIA).  Regardless of differences, the final definition should still reflect the same philosophy …

  1. it’s any event (all hazards planning approach)
  2. that causes us not to be able to provide our critical business functions (identified)
  3. for a predetermined (specified) period of time.

Through the Risk and BIA, we are in a better position to clearly understand and identify what our critical functions are.  And of course we know not everything is critical.  Once we know what’s critical, we can also better quantify how long (time) we can go without this function before it becomes a “disaster”.  Anything prior to this time constraint indicates the incident is more of an outage and doesn’t require activation of the business continuity plan.  Read – Fire – Aim.

So how about it, do your plans identify what a disaster is?  Equally important, do your employees understand what a disaster is and when the plan should be activated?  If not, spend some time to develop the definition that’s appropriate for your organization.  Doing so will add clarity and effectiveness to your plan.  Tell me what you think.

Getting Prepared In a Year

Well, with my recent travel to Hawaii, I inadvertently missed a step in our journey to becoming prepared this year.  I hope you will consider it a minor detour.  We are back on the road and our journey continues with our fourth destination on our journey to becoming prepared this year.

When you are at the hardware store, I want you to pick-up the following items:

  • Plumbers tape which is really a type of strapping.  Don’t get this confused with “Teflon tape”.  Get the one that is a flexible metal strip with a regular series of holes running the length of the “tape.” It is generally used to provide mechanical support for piping.  You’ll use this in the “To Do” that follows.
  • A crowbar
  • (If your home needs either or both)  A smoke detector and a CO detector.  Don’t forget the batteries!

From your doctor or pharmacist, you will want to get any extra medications you may need or a prescription marked “Emergency Use” if needed.

Things To Do:

  •  Use the Plumbers tape (strapping) from above to tie your water heater to nearby wall studs.  FEMA provides some good information on this, along with other earthquake related material at “Protecting Against Earthquake Damage”
  • Install your new smoke and CO detectors or test the ones currently in place.

So, what do you think?

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