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Tuesday, 04 March 2014 21:41

Solomon Was Right: There Is Nothing New Under The Sun

Written by  John Glenn

Airplane crashes into the World Trade Center towers

Nothing new about that; think Empire State Building, B-25, and 1945.

Blackouts and utility disruptions shut down cities

How many "great northeast blackouts" have been recorded in 1965 & 2003?

Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes/typhoons, tsunamis threats to all

The Internet is full of environmental disasters; likewise it provides maps of fault lines, volcanoes, storm paths, etc

Global warming threatens shoreline

I have maps of Florida showing a land mass that grew and shrank as nature took its course; changes that occurred long before modern man arrived on the scene

Influenza epidemic and plague threaten

Remember the "Spanish Flu" of 1918; the earliest recorded plague dates back to 165 CE.

Recession, depression around corner

There is a well-documented cycle of severe dips in the economy.

Ships refused entry into port

Hardly unusual, be the ship cargo or cruise; a few sick passengers or a container with suspect cargo and the vessel may be denied access to the port.

Wars, insurrections, and terrorism worldwide threat

Can anyone think of a time peace prevailed around the world? Can anyplace be considered safe from terrorists?

Truly, as Solomon allegedly wrote: "There is nothing new under the sun."

So why is it we are surprised when an event occurs? The event is not a "first"

But it never happened to me

Unless something happens to us, or to people we know, many potential risks are simply not considered.

Granted, worrying about a rock slide in flat southeast Florida is very low on the priorities list, but perhaps the results of a rock slide are worth considering.

A tsunami in the desert is highly unlikely, but history proves that flooding is a danger even in a desert; ask the people of Phoenix AZ.

Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás said it best In 1905 when he penned in The Life of Reason (Vol. 1), "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

History is all around us; it is not confined to history books (paper or electronic).

Newspapers where they survive, radio and television news and documentaries, and, having all the answers to all the questions, even if some answers may be wrong, the World Wide Web.

Communities have archives that can alert risk management practitioners to risks that have occurred before the practitioner's time. Is the facility site in a flood plain? When was the geology report made? (The federal government in the U.S. recently revised flood risk information; as with all things, flood maps apparently are "subject to change.") What is buried under the ground that might disrupt construction?

While looking at things that might have a direct impact, take time to look at things that could have an indirect impact; things such as

  • Neighbors
  • Ports, waterways, and railways
  • Traffic

Do the neighbors have a good working relationship with their employees?

Is there a danger from hazardous materials at nearby sea and air ports; is there a railroad track in the vicinity that might carry dangerous cargo?

Are there major highways close by? If there are, there is a great potential for a variety of risks: hazmat, accidents blocking access to and from the facility, road closures for parades and visiting politicians must be included in the risk list.

Note I avoided mentioning "the usual suspects": environment, human error, and technology. Nor did I include supply chain management - does anyone but this scrivener considers lenders as part of the supply chain, and transportation between vendor and the business (or the business and the customers)?

Biggest risk of all - management

Any practitioner who has been at the business for any length of time knows that management can be the biggest threat to business survival.

The problem is not just that management has other priorities for its finite finances, it is that management

  • Won't acknowledge the threats uncovered by the practitioner; it hears but does not listen
  • Won't allow the practitioner to look beyond the traditional business continuity risks; that is, things over which the organization can exert direct control.

Management cannot control anything outside its facilities; therefore, it cannot acknowledge there is a threat to its "business as usual."

It is management's job - not the practitioner's - to determine where its limited funds are spent; but it is the practitioner's job to diplomatically lobby for some effort to avoid or mitigate at least the more likely risks.

It is not likely that a plane will crash into a low-rise building distant from an airport; it's possible, but the probability is far less than for a high-rise in an airport's final approach.

Selling risk management

Given that selling risk management by threat is usually a hard sell.

Rather than sell by threat, practitioners are well advised to sell by consequences. In other words, if the threat occurs, what are the likely results?

Going back to the short list of risks that can't happen:

  • Airplane crashes into the World Trade Center towers
    This threat only can be mitigated by locating facilities away from the most common threat areas. Still, if the threat happens, the plan needs to consider it as any threat that destroys all/part of the facility with the possible loss of lives. Similar results can occur from fire, earthquake, flood, explosion. Rather than ask the question: "What if ‘threat’ happens," ask "What if the facility is wholly or partly destroyed?"
  • Blackouts and utility disruptions shut down cities
    Two primary options:
    1. Install generators to power the entire workplace (not just Infotech) and assure there is fuel to power the generators and heat the facility.
    2. Send staff home and hope their residences have utilities; in a wide-area blackout as in 1965 and 2003, this won't help.
  • The threat can be mitigated with outside-the-grid facilities, but unless the facilities are used year-round, the cost may be prohibitive.
  • Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes/typhoons, tsunamis threat to all
    Natural events cannot always be avoided, but they can be mitigated by using building techniques to withstand nature's worst.
  • Global warming threatens shoreline
    Global warming and cooling are cyclical and have been even before homo sapiens started spewing carbon waste into the air. Both warming and cooling are a slow process so at least for now, this should not impact facility citing. Reducing emissions is advisable from both a political and PR perspective.
  • Influenza epidemic and plague threaten
    This one is tricky. Organizations can offer inoculations, but in most areas cannot force anyone to become inoculated. If the organization promotes inoculation, who pays, where will the inoculations be given, will the treatment be staggered (in case there are reactions to the inoculation); what are the consequences for someone who elected not to be inoculated and becomes sick on the job? This requires medical, legal, and personnel input.
  • Recession, depression around corner
    Recessions and depressions impact both vendors of all types (including lenders) and the market. Controlling economies is government's job, but preparing for a downturn in business - or to take advantage of opportunities due to others unpreparedness - is within management's purview. Is there a sufficient buffer to weather the storm? Are financial obligations manageable with minimal income?
  • Ships refused entry into port
    While this would appear to impact only carriers and shipping companies, if the organization depends on "over-the-border" vendors or sells to "over-the-border" clients, moving goods thorough ports is critical. If the goods are onboard a ship prevented from making port, the goods won't arrive as scheduled. If critical personnel are onboard a ship or plane that is denied entry, those personnel are temporarily lost to the organization. If the business carries passengers, the best advice is to know in advance which ports will accept the sick and have the facilities to accommodate them. On the flip side, know which ports will be closed to vessels with sick people on on board.
  • Wars, insurrections, and terrorism worldwide threat
    To the best of this scrivener's knowledge, there is no place free of war, insurrection, or terrorism. The only options are to
    1. Train personnel to be aware of their environment
    2. Limit the number of key personnel in any one area or conveyance
    3. Provide armed escorts in particularly dangerous environs
    4. Make certain other personnel are trained and prepared to assume the duties of anyone caught up in a war, insurrection, or terrorism; in this case. this includes personnel with reserve military obligations

New twists to old risks

If you think there IS something new under the sun, consider these new technology threats:

Now: My word processer is messed up and won't work.

Then: My stylus broke and I ran out of clay tablets

Now: The printer is jammed/out of toner

Then: Oops, I dropped the two tablets

Now: The calculator on my computer/watch is dead; nothing adds up

Then: The beads of my abacus fell off; I can't do the math

Now: I forgot to update/charge my GPS and I don't have a paper map

Then: The sky is dark and I don't know which way I'm going

Take Santayana's admonishment to heart and learn the history that surrounds your organization and bear in mind Solomon's admonition that there is nothing new under the sun.

Glenn-JohnAbout the Author
John Glenn is a risk management practitioner and history buff with more than a few years experience.