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Winter Journal

Volume 31, Issue 4

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Preparation is invaluable. Very few, if any, countries are better prepared than Japan. Additionally Japan’s culture, unlike some other unnamed countries, supports self-sufficiency and because of that the citizens react quickly and calmly. The lessons learned from Kobe encouraged the Japanese government to adopt a more rigorous and comprehensive emergency preparedness program. However, as we have seen during 9/11 even the best prepared do not anticipate a multi-scenario incident that will stretch Japan’s emergency resources possibly to a breaking point. They’ve had a major earthquake, a massive tsunami, and multiple nuclear crises and now are dealing with a volcano eruption on one of their southern islands.

Given the recent history of more frequent and severe natural disasters we need to open our “planning imagination” to scenarios such as the reality Japan now faces. In this country we already know what a lack of imagination can allow to happen. Hopefully by getting involved and carefully documenting what is now taking place we can learn lessons from what is now another “unthinkable” natural and man-made disaster.  The nuclear crisis may have been avoided if the backup facilities for the nuclear facility had been hardened but 30-40 years ago when they were built hardly anyone even considered emergency preparedness and it was even rarer to consider disaster recovery.

Maybe we should ask what would prevent this from happening to our own West Coast nuclear facilities.

Los Angeles has similar, if not the same, geology as northern Japan and also has a high potential for earthquakes. Washington State has a fault just offshore that could generate a similar size tsunami that could impact most of the waterfront homes and business facilities on the coast and geologists have found pre-historic evidence of a massive tsunami.

Economic Impact—Need to Know Your Supply Chain

Loss of critical vendors can have a devastating impact on companies during good economic times. Do companies dependent on products from Japan know how badly they will be affected by this disaster? If not they should be initiating that evaluation as quickly as possible, otherwise those who are prepared or more attentive will find an alternate vendor and secure their goods before others do.

In the first hours of the Kobe earthquake, Texas Instruments noticed in their Texas network operations center that the Kobe Steel node went off the network. They called, received no answer, and then called another location in Japan where they were informed about the earthquake. They immediately called IBM and requested a major commitment of service engineers and equipment before many other companies even knew there was an earthquake. Their response guaranteed them the resources they needed to relocate critical processing and resume business quickly.

Outsourced Operations

Do we know if our third party vendors, located in countries and locations, exposed to similar catastrophic events are prepared to handle this type of disaster. Could their infrastructure survive even a lesser quake or smaller tsunami? An even grittier question is whether you can pull back the services into your operations. Can you absorb the volume of work currently outsourced and if not all, how much?

Emergency Communications

Would you, like Texas Instruments, know when something catastrophic happened at one of your international locations? Is their communications infrastructure likely to fail during a similar or lesser event? Would you be able to quickly establish and maintain communications with that locations emergency team even if the local infrastructure failed?

If you cannot answer these questions or haven’t considered the above issues it would be wise to start the planning process now. The one thing we do know is that we don’t know exactly when this will happen to our company but un