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Volume 27, Issue 3

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October 25, 2007

Disaster Strikes in Different Forms

Written by  Richard Newman
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For some time now, natural disasters have demanded the attention of corporate leaders and contingency planners alike--and with good reason. Both Hurricane Hugo and the Loma Prieta Quake dealt perhaps unprecedented damage to the corporate world. As a result of these disasters, along with the current threats of tornados and flooding in the Midwest, disaster recovery continues to be an important issue for most businesses.

If we direct our attention away from natural disasters for just a moment, however, we may choose to consider an often equally devastating man-made crisis that is rarely discussed in the disaster recovery arena: labor strikes.

With the exception of wild-cat strikes, one less headache in strike situations compared to other kinds of disasters is that they can often be seen well enough in advance to make preparations. Nevertheless, a strike creates a hindrance to critical business functions for an undeterminable period of time, and some planning is not only possible but crucial. This article will outline some important points to consider when designing a contingency plan for strike situations.

CONTINUING SERVICE OR PRODUCTION

First of all, if a strike seems inevitable, upper management must make the critical decision: will the company continue to produce? There are many factors involved when making this difficult decision. It is almost impossible to determine the duration of a strike, but it may help to check into the company's previous strike history. If there is none, one can consult the strike history of a similar sized company with similar circumstances, location, and labor group. Make sure to compare only a comparable company; for example, a service company where the employees struck for higher wages would be an unlikely barometer for a production company undergoing an employee benefit strike.

Another factor to consider is the specific nature of the business. A company that produces aluminum, for example, could not afford to shut down production because the molten aluminum would cool and harden in the boilers. A company using old machines could not shut down as the stress of restarting them might be too great.

Greyhound, for example, never considered discontinuing service. The demand for bus service had increased 20% over the past three years, and, because of the specific nature of its business, the company needed to maintain as much mileage and diversity as possible. Retaining only a small, selected portion of mileage for a company like Greyhound could hardly be considered business
as usual.

There are many other factors to consider in this crucial question of whether or not a company will continue to produce. Planners must carefully examine the health of the industry in general and also assess the community's attitude towards the strike. Even the time of year makes a difference, as strikes tend to be shorter and less violent during cold weather months.

PROTECTION

Once the company has decided to continue service or production, the recovery planner and upper management must work closely with the security division to protect vital business functions. Critical plant facilities, such as power transformers, communications, flammable areas, and essential shipping areas, must be identified. Their security should be enhanced with fencing, lighting, cameras, alarms, and fixed or roving security posts. Communications systems (phones, two-way radios, CCTV mail, etc.) should also be secured against tampering and interception.

Planners must closely examine critical areas specific to their business that need protection. The destruction of an exhaust fan, for example, would halt production of a mine, while a telephone company could not exist without its communication networks. During its recent crisis planning, Greyhound identified buses as its critical facilities and made a comprehensive inventory based on individual bus number, location, and need. Surplus buses were stored at inside parking lots with additional security. The company also increased security to protect maintenance facilities, another critical business area.

Maps and scaled plans of the entire facility should be prepared in order to establish checkpoints and to protect entrances and exits. Property boundaries will also need to be established. These need to be accurate, which may entail painting a white line around the perimeter to provide a clear physical and psychological distinction for all parties included.

Appropriate law enforcement agencies should be notified to ensure prompt response in the event of picket-line violence or other unlawful conduct. The Fire Department should also be advised of the situation and the potential for undetected fires. Are the contacts for each of these agencies documented?

Protection of personnel is also vital, and planners and security members will need to make decisions about moving both management and other non-striking employees through picket lines. In some cases, it may be safer to house management staff on the premises. If so, have allowances been made for their food and housing needs? Has the safety of their families been considered? Unlisted phone numbers should be given to management families so problems or question they might have can be answered quickly.

For employees who must enter and exit the plant, a section of the plan should provide information for carpooling arrangements, bus or van arrangements, staggered times of entrance and departure, and special parking arrangements and pickup areas.

STRIKE MANAGEMENT TEAMS

Strike Management Teams are essential, and they should meet frequently during the planning stage and daily once the strike has begun. These teams should include the President or Manager of the corporation, someone from Corporate Headquarters to sanction and review decisions, a Public Relations Director, the Plant Security Manager, a Corporate Security Director, a representative from Corporate Counsel, and possibly a strike-specializing attorney. Someone from labor relations, such as the director of human resources, would also be helpful.

Greyhound developed three control centers, each working round the clock. An Operations Control Center, comprised of security, safety, and business managers, functioned as the nerve center of the organization. This team manned telephones and directed critical information to its 24-hour Legal Center. Other information was funneled to a round-the-clock News Media Center. This team was staffed by public relations members and, for consistency, security, and legal reasons, no local managers disseminated information or appeared on television.

PRODUCTION OR SERVICE RECOVERY ITINERARY

An itinerary should be developed for production or service recovery. Considerations should include stockpiling materials rather than risking crossing picket lines frequently. Vendors will also need to be contacted--often times, arrangements will need to be made for shipments to be delivered off-site and picked up by non-striking personnel.
In terms of out shipments, test runs may need to be made. If at all possible, railroad shipments should be preferred, as vandalism to railways would immediately incur a federal investigation. If no railway system is accessible, delivery trucks should be run in convoys protected by security teams equipped with documentation capabilities. Helicopter service is another viable option.

It may also be helpful to develop a production or service recovery schedule. Greyhound, for example, developed a seven phase schedule for recovering its pre-strike miles. The first phase had a goal of 33% of service in March and, three months later, the company was running 90% of its pre-strike service.

ORGANIZATION

As in almost any disaster plan, there will be some reorganization. Executive management should determine a temporary organizational chart with authority clearly delegated for crisis situations. Have you designated a chain of command complete with back-up personnel managers? Managers will also need to be reassigned to production or service positions as needed and to training facilities. Others will be actively recruiting and hiring replacement labor. In terms of off-site training facilities, have you made allowances for expenses such as food and housing?
Frequently, management will need to be supplemented by managers and staff from other plants and facilities from within the corporation. Again, if they are to be housed on-site, as is suggested to avoid violence, you will need to provide trailers, food, laundry, and other necessities.

SECURITY AND DOCUMENTATION

A security team is useful in more respects than providing added protection to critical facilities. During its recent crisis, Pittston Coal Group hired A.P.T., Inc., a subsidiary of Vance International, for added security and documentation of picket line violence. The unarmed Asset Protection Team's services were valuable in obtaining numerous fines, injunctions, and restraining orders.

Greyhound also equipped itself with documentation capabilities. Video cameras were installed in all major and trouble-prone terminals, with an end result of the company receiving 22 restraining orders against violent strikers.

When choosing such a tactical team, a good choice would be a group that specializes in strikes with experience in both planning and operations. It would also be beneficial if the security group were not indigenous to the area, as an outside group will not have ties to the community and therefore no sympathies. An outside group would also be unlikely to leak information to labor, and, because they know no one in the community, neither they nor their families would be subject to threats or intimidation when the strike is over. Similarly, when both parties shake hands and agree to work together again, there would be fewer resentments between labor and security with an outside tactical team.

Many of the concerns raised by this article, such as protecting critical business functions or selecting an outside tactical team, will need to be handled in close conjunction with security. By outlining some of these steps and considerations involved, however, it should be clear that recovery planning in strike situations is not only necessary, but an aspect of planning which should not be directed exclusively by the security department. For the disaster recovery planner, it is important to remember that strikes and other man-made disasters can be just as devastating as natural ones.


Richard Newman is a Staff Writer for the DISASTER RECOVERY JOURNAL. The JOURNAL is grateful for information provided by Greyhound Bus Lines, the Pittston Coal Group, and Vance International.

This article adapted from Vol. 3 No. 3, p. 24.

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