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Wednesday, 11 April 2012 19:44

A Letter Home

Written by  Ken Schroeder, MBCP, MBCI
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Long-time DRJ conference attendee takes a little creative license to describe his most-recent trip to Orlando.]

Dear Mom,

I just got back from my first DRJ conference in Orlando. They call it a “DRJ Spring World Conference," and it really was. There were people here from all over the world.

When the company asked me to be the business continuity coordinator, I was honored, and then the realization of what I had in front of me sank in. It is a huge responsibility—making sure the company is resilient enough to withstand virtually any disaster. Boy, did I have a lot to learn. They let me go to the conference to learn, and “WOW” did I need it!

The general sessions have really big names presenting material that is new, pertinent, applicable to all industries. The attendees come from all over the world, as do the speakers. Many of us attending were novices, while many others were seasoned veterans. Some speakers were professionals in the industry, sharing their view on a wide variety of topics. Some were telling their story—what happened to their company, what catastrophe they faced, and how they overcame it.

The first speaker was really funny. They called him a motivational speaker. He gets everyone involved. He gets everyone laughing. He gets everyone relaxed—really relaxed. He hypnotized a group on stage. Once he had our guard down, he zapped us with his message: Every job in the organization is important, and everyone in the organization is important. It’s so easy to lose sight of that fact. It’s so easy to not understand the “big picture” and it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut. The speaker reminded me, “If I don’t respect myself, nobody else will either.”

When I asked some of the veterans about some of the previous speakers, they mentioned some guy who did a whole presentation in nonsensical doublespeak. Durwood somebody or other. Somebody else mentioned that several years ago, Joe Theisman was really good as well. Who’d’ve thought an ex-football player could talk so well about leadership. The conference was worth it just for their opening speakers!

The food was good…but I didn’t eat my vegetables—there was too much really good other “stuff”. Morning and afternoon snacks contributed to the calorie glut. I must’ve gained 10 lbs.

At the meals, there is a little flag at each table, so you can sit with other in the same business—finance, government, manufacturing, insurance, services. I met some really interesting people. Many were just like me—attending for the first time, with eyes agape, just like a deer in the headlights, looking at all the different groups. For some meals I sat with people outside my group, just to get a better idea how the other half lives. At one meal, I sat down just as others were leaving and found myself alone at the table. It wasn’t long before others arrive, introduced themselves and sat down.

One was a really nice older gentleman. It turns out, he was one of the founders of the industry. Came right up to me and introduced himself. Ed Devlin was his name. We chatted as though we had known each other for years. He later introduced many of the general sessions. While we were chatting, another gentleman in a wheelchair came up and introduced himself. He had had a stroke, and understanding him was difficult. But what a colorful character. It turns out he was the founder of the conference and the DRJ magazine—Rich Arnold. And that’s the way it was at every turn—seasoned veterans welcoming us newcomers, making us feel at home, and offering their experiences.

Back to the speakers and sessions. Sunday afternoon there were special workshops for people. Some taught how to create exercises. How to cooperate with public sector planners. How to do just about anything. How to organize to manage a disaster and to judge the maturity of our crisis management program. One session was titled, “Birds of a Feather” which let us meet with others in our area in a session facilitated by an experienced practitioners.

Sunday evening the exhibit hall opened up. “WOW!” What a collection of vendors, non-profits, and government agencies, each with something to say. It was staggering. Some booths were huge, with people waiting to explain what they did and why I needed what they had. Some booths were small non-profits like PPBI explaining how they were only working to enhance public-private cooperation and understanding.

There was a lot of discussion of “resilience.” That is a new term that is taking the industry down new paths. Whether it be companies or communities, the ideas presented force us to look at not just recovering from a disaster, but being able to bounce back to normal, often while the crisis is still developing—just like a rubber ball. The other common theme was called “enterprise risk management," which suggests the entire focus should be pro-active by building an organization that looks at all the risks, whether it be hardware, people, market, environmental, regulatory, and incorporate it into an all-encompassing management program. I’m still trying to grasp what it all means. “Leadership” was another of the themes, where speakers talked about how good leadership can make the difference between successful resilience during a crisis or not. There were lots of examples.

One speaker talked about Ernest Shackleton keeping his crew alive for two years. Another mentioned the Reno Air Races disaster last fall. They talked about the flooding and tornado seasons we’ve experienced. They talked about communities coming together before the crisis with resilience planning, and communities that waited to come together until the disaster nearly wiped them out.

There was even an award from PPBI for “Best Practices” that went to a Dr. Anthony Mangeri, who has been in emergency management for over 20 years, as a fireman, coordinator, BCP/DR expert, a professor at American Military University and American Public University, accredited in emergency management and fire science. What a distinguished career and still active in promoting public and private cooperation.

Not that I was there for the festivities as well, but Monday evening was a beach party sponsored by Send Word Now, one of the vendors, with great music. One guy even stood up and sang a funny song called “Just Because” with the band. Tuesday evening was another party sponsored by xMatters and began with more awards from The Business Continuity Institute, a group that accredits practitioners in the industry, and that went on into the wee hours—or so I’m told. Of course, you realize I wasn’t there for the socialization, but I had to participate nonetheless.

Lots of love
Your loving son,

Ken Schroeder, MBCP, MBCI, is vice president for business continuity at Southeast Corporate. He is responsible for the life cycle management of all business continuity functions. Schroeder is a member of the Disaster Recovery Journal Editorial Advisory Board and the PPBI Board of Directors.