The World of Risk
The list of untoward events that can befall us on a world-wide, or mega, scale is not infinite. It is, however, large and undoubtedly growing. As with any continuity planning exercise, it pays to “know your enemy.” The chart below shows several critical world risks, as ranked by the international organization, Global Risk Network. To the network’s list we might as well include some notable additions such as the accumulating risk from chemical pollution, worldwide concerns of worker safety, and world poverty (especially the widening gap between the richest nations and the poorest). By definition, most worldwide risk would affect individual entities that comprise that world. The bigger picture is that very little of the support network (the resources we rely on to mitigate smaller scale disasters) would be left intact should global-scale disaster strike.
A disaster planner obviously needs to understand how, say, a widespread power outage will affect his or her entity. They also need to understand how their entity will affect the outside world should any such wider spread disaster strike. More to the point, the individual entity and its planners must understand how the individual entity fits into the wider response to such disasters. The same goes for many of the mega-risks cited above. Are such mega events even survivable on the micro scale, say at the business or community level? Perhaps not. Nonetheless, disaster planning is about at least giving us a chance. The bigger the disaster, the bigger the challenge. When dealing with mega scale disasters, we may not be able to save the individual business entity affected, but by applying the wider process, we may be able to save the world.
● Oil price shock/energy supply interruptions
● National deficits/currency fluctuations
● Blow up in asset prices/excessive indebtedness
● Oil price shock/energy supply interruptions
● Climate change
● Loss of freshwater services
● Natural catastrophe
● International terrorism
● Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
● Interstate and civil wars
● Chronic diseases in the developed world
● Breakdown of critical information infrastructure
● Emergence of nanotechnology risks
Source: Global Risks 2007: A Global Risk Network Report, Global Risk Network, 2007.
A Selection of the Global Risks We Face Today
Disaster Planning Brings Hope
Planning for disaster is, of course, not a substitute for eliminating those risks we deem most threatening to our existence. In a lot of cases the management of such risks is under our control, or could be. The residual, but critical, role for the disaster planner is giving us a fighting chance should fate deal us a bad blow. Even in a state of bare subsistence, human beings face various non-negligible risks. We could get hit by lightning, for example. Disaster recovery enters in knowing what to do at that moment to promote survival.
So even under the best conditions, we face a great deal of uncertainty about if, or how widespread, any disastrous effects may be. While we often look at these potentials negatively, the same uncertainty also presents us with hope. It is that hope that drives all disaster recovery efforts. The hope that, when adversity strikes, all will not be lost.
Realistically, there always remains the slight chance that our battle with disaster will be lost.
All disasters, by definition, imply the potential that we may need to start over with a “clean slate.” And we may need to do so regardless of how well prepared we are (were) beforehand. The clean slate outcome is obviously something we don’t ever want to face. It’s the near worst case scenario (irreversible, final extinction being the absolute worst). The only hope we attach to it, and it’s a glimmer at best, is that there may be a sufficient critical mass left over so that we can “start over.” Disaster recovery planning under this scenario takes on a much wider role. The emphasis is now really “societal recovery,” and the determination is of suitable pathways toward that recovery.
All this doomsaying aside, the clean slate approach needs not be a strictly post-cataclysm thing. To the extent that effective disaster recovery planning, and risk management in general, is about working backward (i.e., “backcasting”) from possible problems to feasible solutions. Working from a hypothetical clean slate may give us ideas on how to best avoid disaster in the future. The combination of a rational plan of catastrophic risk avoidance, and the safety net inherent in disaster planning, offers us the best possible response to the risks we inevitably must face.
The Growing Need for a Wider Scope
Why the expansion of focus to the world-view now? Certainly, much recent attention to risk is driven by technological progress, which brings with it its own set of perils. World population and productive capacity is growing as well, increasing the number of people and assets exposed to wide-scale calamity. Last but not least, concentration of both people and produc tive capacity is also growing, increasing the regional exposure to catastrophic events. Often the disruption of a concentrated center of population and production can have widespread effects throughout society and even the environment.
In response to the potential for world wide calamity, disaster recovery planners at all levels need to band together. A sense of community and interaction already exists in the variety of professional organizations and their support groups, such as the Disaster Recovery Institute. While the focus is often, and necessarily, on the individual entity, there is no reason why the attention cannot be spread (at least partially) to the bigger risk issues. How do we as disaster planners respond to the bigger issues, if we had to. Taking too focused a view deprives society of a valuable resource in terms of recovery expertise and knowledge.
Business and community disaster recovery planners have a lot to contribute to the notion of planning for world scale events, beyond a ready-made network of professional contacts and alliances. They bring to the process knowledge that can only be gained by working on real-world problems and through occasionally tackling actual disasters of various scale. Disaster recovery planners also contribute, through their dedication to serving their respective organizations and communities, a very human side to the process of planning for disaster that is lost in more “theoretical” endeavors. The message to disaster recovery planners from all this is clear: Get involved in the wider world of risk.
"Appeared in DRJ's Winter 2008 Issue"