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Volume 32, Issue 1

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Advice From A Risk Detective

DRJ | The premiere resource for business continuity and disaster recovery
Annie Searle is principal of ASA Risk Consultants, an independent consulting and research firm that helps companies identify and manage operational risk. She is a lecturer on operational risk as well as on ethics, policy and law with respect to information use at the University of Washington’s School of Information. Searle is the author of the popular book Advice From A Risk Detective, and has published two volumes of research notes on operational risk events and issues. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the International Network of Women in Emergency Management and Homeland Security in 2011; and is a lifetime member of the Institute of American Entrepreneurs.

Prior to founding ASA in 2009, Searle spent ten years at Washington Mutual Bank as a divisional executive where she was responsible on a company-wide level for business continuity, disaster recovery, crisis management, technology risk and compliance, technology change management, and some elements of information security.

Staring Down the Bogeyman

It hardly seems possible that fifteen years have passed since 9/11.  So much has changed, in particular our communications technology, nowhere better seen than in the Politco Magazine article that taps the recollections of those with President Bush on that day, titled “We’re the Only Plane in the Sky.” Though the fine line between security and surveillance in the name of counter-terrorism is tested regularly, information sharing among government agencies and the private sector has never been higher. Sometimes in fact I feel like we suffer from an over-abundance of information that is not properly sorted and weighted. 

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 and the fifth time I have used a September column to reflect upon how well we have done with the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report. First, however, it should be noted that the government finally released the missing 20+ pages of the report, and both sides of Congress have passed a bill that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabian entities.  Though it would upend some aspects of international law, it is to be hoped that the president will sign the bill.  It’s clear now that there are thousands more pages of reports from government agencies that are still classified and that would shed further light on the situation, despite diplomatic complications that might ensue, especially since Saudi–financed Madrassa schools continue to train terrorists.

Though Congress passed legislation in 2002 that identified and consolidated 22 different agencies into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that department still has to appear and provide briefings to nearly 100 different Congressional committees.  Recent increased interest in cyber-terrorism has increased the amount of time the FBI spends in front of Congress, but not reduced the load of requests made of senior DHS officials, in part because DHS’s scope, which includes all forms of terrorism as well as natural disasters.  Isn’t it about time to streamline such reporting down to a reasonable number of  DHS committees in the House and Senate? 

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Creating a Perfect Pitch

 I’m speaking on Thursday at the 2015 SecureWorld Seattle conference, expanding and refining a presentation I made this past summer, and on an article I wrote on the same topic a couple of years ago.   I’ll be talking about the life of the CEO, including the magnitude and frequency of decisions that CEOs make every day.  I’ll examine how is it possible to make a perfect pitch to the C-suite for a large scale project, and the attendant expense, that is both intelligible and persuasive, when is data security and cyber security.  Part of that examination involves looking at how executives send and receive information and make decisions, using four executive archetypes – “online junkies, schmoozers, cheerleaders and firefighters” –   that can be found in a 2013  McKinsey Quarterly article to explain how large scale projects derail when the way that executives spend time is not aligned to the organization’s strategic priorities. 

The content aligns with my ongoing research on executives and risk, and how much executives actually know about risk present in their organizations.  Executives become more used to making decisions that could involve people, process, systems or external events as they rise higher in an organization. In almost parallel fashion, information appears to become simplified as it moves higher in the organization, past managers to senior management and then refined once again for the C-Suite, and perhaps a final time in the form of a report for the firm’s board of directors.  So we move from what can be a well-thought-out expensive proposal, to management signoffs as the proposal moves up to the C-suite for approval, the executive signoff, and then a summary in the form of a report – or ongoing status reports -- to the board of directors.

 My focus will be on how to think about and then create a proposal that is the “perfect pitch” – including an easily understandable executive summary that covers both tangible (the cost, the data available on the need for the project, and the competitive landscape) and the more intangible (corporate reputation, corporate liability, alignment with the corporate mission and other strategic initiatives) costs.

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Where are we now? How do we move forward?

One of two cornerstones of the National Academy of Arts and Science.

The weekend of August 28th marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, an event so significant that the practice of emergency management by the federal government was changed forever.  August 28th  marked the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I have a dream" speech.  It marked also the 60th anniversary of the vicious murder of a Chicago boy, Emmett Till, when he visited relatives in the South and whistled at a white woman.  On August 26th, a TV reporter and cameraman were shot dead in the head on a morning news program by a killer who then posted video of the murders to social media.  In a 23 page suicide note, the only thing that the murderer left out of his message was the similarity to ISIS acts of terror that also take place in living color and then get posted to social media sites.

While the federal government has completely reshaped its responses to disasters, we can't really pat ourselves on the back where equality and justice that Reverend King was looking for is concerned.  The situation has never been worse in this country where distrust and anger are concerned, and the gap continues to increase between those who have and those who do not.

The situation appears intolerable also where gun control and mental health proposals go unfunded and unapproved.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to have a lock hold on our elected officials where even the simplest forms of information sharing are concerned -- registering guns and sales of guns in such a way that federal and state police databases are interlocked to detect those with criminal or mental health histories.  Why is this passing bare bones legislation that could trap for lowest hanging fruit so difficult?  What do we need to do to be heard?

The interior cornerstone at the National Academy of Arts and Science.

The worst of it in all this is that each episode seems to set off more disturbed people in what are called copycat events.  Just as those who ride trains every day are probably now more aware of their environments after the events of last weekend on the Amsterdam-Paris train, I suspect that every news person will feel their own heightened anxiety for at least the next several months.

Given the flammable nature of public discourse on so many issues these days, especially with presidential politics starting make things worse, I would suggest that we need to find new ways to move the discussion on gun violence forward, to see if it is possible to affect real change on this issue and on the issues involving equality and justice as well.

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Influencing the Future

I like to tell the story about a client who could not understand why I would honor a commitment to teach rather than give the firm more hours in order to make more money. "Why would you want to do that?" he asked. I answered that I could reach more people interested in what I had to say and at the same time influence the next generation of risk leaders.


I continue to write books and articles and accept public speaking engagements for similar reasons. Translating concepts and ideas into action is as relevant in the corporate world as it is in the classroom, where theories and frameworks from textbooks are blended with examples of risk from the real world. The examples of financial loss from poor risk management are plentiful. And since the field of risk management is so new, frameworks and standards continue to evolve. Staying right on the cutting edge of thought and practice is a priority.

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City of Seattle Creates Disaster Recovery Plan

Last week, students in my risk seminar heard from UW seismologist Bill Steele, in particular about the Cascadia subduction zone we live in, including what advance planning and management of risks associated with a major earthquake can be done in advance.

This week, students will hear from Erika Lund, who oversees the City of Seattle's Disaster Recovery Plan, which is an entirely different framework from which to view a disaster.  Among the questions asked of  the Executive Advisory Group, to which Mayor Ed Murray appointed me, were:  how will the Seattle community handle short and long term recovery efforts?  How can we return our economy, education system, social service network, and other vital aspects of our community to full function?  How can we use a disaster as an opportunity to rebuild our community better than it was before? Who is responsible for making such decisions and with whose input? How and when will they be made?

Erika will describe the planning process today and talk as well about the identification of the core values that are a part of the plan.

Someone asked me yesterday if I don't find the world a very depressing place.  I answered that I do not, in part because of inspired work like this, and the people who give their time to do it.

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Call for International Research Notes in a New Year


It won’t be long until we publish Reflections on Risk III.  Toward that end, we would like to invite any of our readers to submit a proposed research note for consideration, especially if such a note provides an alternative view of the topic or specific recommendations for managing the issues involved.  With readers in ten countries other than the United States, we particularly encourage submissions from Europe, the Americas, the Mideast, Africa and Asia.  With research notes, our aim is to move past conventional or historical explanations toward proposed solutions, guidelines, policies or regulation that reduces the amount of human or financial loss.  Without multiple perspectives on what are often muddy issues, it is difficult to see how we are headed for anything other than greater world disorder, higher levels of cultural gridlock, religious extremism, and the increased possibility of cyber-wars among nation states.  Please take a look at guidelines for submission here.

 We are not half way through the first month of the New Year, yet older operational risks have presented themselves across various critical infrastructure sectors in the form of human and financial loss from terrorism, cyber skirmishes, mishandled vendors, unexplained airplane crashes, and failed internal controls.  Of all the loss events, the Most Creative Explanation to the Regulators Award must go to Honda,  a company that undercounted certain claims, and then explained that “its own internal investigation found that it misinterpreted what issues should be counted.” (USA Today, Jan. 8, 2015)  The fines imposed by regulators on the transportation and banking sector sound large when described, but are easily expensed and there is no sign that behavioral change is on the way.

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We need better checklists.

The Dallas hospital treating the Ebola patient has just announced that the patient died.

The Liberian public health and airport security personnel in Liberia did their jobs, and checked outgoing passengers at three distinct checkpoints.  But airport personnel can do little when patients lie or the patient didn't know that what was thought to be malaria was actually Ebola.

We've patted ourselves on the back in this country for the sophistication of our medical capabilities, yet as I listened to the story today of the patient being sent away from the hospital in Dallas when his isolation and treatment might have meant that he would have lived, I thought once again of Dr. Atul Gawande's book, The Checklist Manifesto
This type of error is called one of ineptitude, as opposed to one of ignorance, presumably.  We don't know if this was an Ebola-specific checklist; one prepared by the hospital itself; or one from the Center for Disease Controls.  A quick read of Gawande's book might be very helpful, especially if the checklist has more than 5-7 items on it, without what Gawande calls "pause points."  His book is full of stories of how pilots, builders of skyscrapers and surgical teams perform extremely complicated feats, and how using checklists that involve every member of the team makes a difference.  His work in this respect for the World Health Organization has made a large impact:  deaths after surgeries have been reduced significantly by the implementation of several simple procedures that are part of the checklist.
I would also recommend the book to the new acting director of the Secret Service and to the panel that is currently being constituted to review the disturbing procedural/process failures over the last several years for the organization charged with guarding the president.  It may be that those procedures or processes have become shopworn.  Certainly it must be the case that, unless on a form of high alert (the United Nations responsibility, for example) agents' situational awareness is at an all time low.  Whether this is a factor related to the move from Treasury to the Department of Homeland Security or not is difficult to estimate, but will undoubtedly be reviewed by the panel.
The tipping point I mentioned last week seems more vivid as weeks go by.  Yet there was one piece of good news this morning:  that it appears Nigeria, the most populous and also most well-off African country in terms of infrastructure and medical personnel, has contained Ebola.  We just can't move quickly enough to get more personnel, hospitals, emergency operations centers and supplies deployed in the remaining countries. 

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Travel Risk Is High Right Now

It's not just that airplanes have been disappearing, or shot down, or that the infectious disease Ebola is out of control in parts of Africa, or that Tel Aviv travel was suspended by major airlines when shelling came too close to the airport . Travel risk has always been an issue for corporations whose employees are spread round the globe.  In this morning's New York Times article, Joe Sharkey goes inside a gathering of corporate travel managers to better understand their concerns, including legal and ethical risks, given the last week or so of travel events.


If you're traveling on your own and don't have a corporate travel office to rely upon to filter out threats and make best recommendations, then your best bet is to go to the Department of State's website and read through the threat analysis they perform on countries you might visit. 

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More Advice From A Risk Detective

 I finished a new article on insider threats a couple of weeks ago.  You can find it on our website (www.anniesearle.com) in the Research section, under "Articles by Annie."

I am on my to New York City via Boston tomorrow morning.  I'll be participating again this year in the Global Risk Forum hosted at New York University.  The theme of the forum is regional resilience, against a variety of growing threats that even highly prepared organizations now have to monitor.  I've been asked to contribute remarks around how even resilient firms can up their game at this time.

Once I'm back next week, I'll be accelerating work on a new book for executives, about operational risk.  More on that soon.

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Take Off the Blinders

It’s been an extraordinary month, with scenarios that include missing planes; another round of deaths at Fort Hood just as the report on lessons learned in the Washington Shipyard was released; a Supreme Court decision that makes us wonder if the justices believe that free speech is the same as money; and, right in our backyard, a devastating mudslide from which all the bodies still have not been removed.

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Seattle Disasters





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Winter Weather Tips from FEMA

Another big storm is bearing down on the East Coast  --  so I thought I would post a link to FEMA's winter weather tips.
The building blocks of the tips for winter weather apply to those of us in other parts of the country as well.
If you keep a stash of extra batteries on hand, you're also likely to have created a family emergency plan and even perhaps to have 5-7 days of emergency food, medicine and other supplies on hand.    If you haven't found the time to take care of those items yet, pick a day this next week and get after it!  Once you've established the basics, it's a simple matter to check out the supplies once a year, replace anything that might have expired, and perhaps add a few more items to your stash labeled for emergencies.
Meanwhile, our thoughts go out to those on the East Coast, who've already gone through this once this month.

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Mother Nature Shows Us Once Again Who Is In Charge

Our son was home from The University at Albany for two weeks in December to celebrate the holidays with us.

 Now he's back in school experiencing this kind of weather.

Albany, N.Y. snow shoveler  

And it's bitterly cold, with the wind expected to come up as well.  For him and for others on the East Coast, I thought I would repeat some old advice on how to handle cold weather.

1.  Stay indoors if possible.

2.  If you do go out, expect delays with all forms of transportation -- assuming there is transportation available.

3.  Dress with extra layers if you are outdoors -- here's where a winter hat and gloves, along with your boots come in quite handy.

4.  Double check your emergency kit to be sure it has everything you need if the power goes out. 

5.  Keep all your electronic devices charged.

6. Set alerts to local emergency management officials so you have the most up to date information on conditions and when the weather will change. You'll also be able to find locations of warming centers or emergency shelters if you need them.

7.  Especially if kids are out of school, ensure that you've a supply of board games and books, for children as well as adults.

8.  Finally, "the best way out is always through."  I believe it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that many years ago, probably in the midst of a howling snowstorm, so cheer up.  The end will soon be in sight, and you'll be even more determined to be prepared the next time Mother Nature has her way with you.

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Give Thanks Any Day

Thanksgiving is the day we celebrate the day when Native Americans sat down with Pilgrims and ate together.  For some of us, it's a better holiday than all the others combined because we reflect upon just how much we have to be thankful for.

Team Rubicon in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

But there's no reason we can't recognize and celebrate unselfish work every day.  Or any day.  Those of you who read me on Facebook may know how much I admire the veterans' volunteer organization called Team Rubicon and the work that these volunteers do during disasters.  They were early into both Haiti (above) and into  both the Philippines (below) and into the devastation in Washington, Illinois. 

   Team Rubicon also sent teams  to help with Hurricane Sandy's aftereffects. If you'd like to learn more about their efforts or support their work, here's their story.

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A great honor

Events near the end of October have a way of forcing me to choose among equally enticing prospects.  Rather than attend this year's Executive Women's Forum in Scottsdale, I flew to Reno to help present the 2013 Hall of Fame Awards & Gala for the International Network of Women in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.  The event is only three years old.  I was honored and amazed to be inducted in 2011, along with Eleanor Roosevelt and Clara Barton.  Last year's inductees were splendid.  And this year, we kept the bar high.
Two distinguished Washingtonians were honored:  Mary Schoenfeld, a pioneer in the field of emergency management and school crisis management.  She's been in the field over 30 years and has written 5 books and countless articles. She is an inspiration to each of us.  Here, she is pictured in the president of inWEM, Dr. Jacqueline McBride, who also hosted the evening's festivities.
Also honored in memoriam was Ben Dew from FEMA Region Xand prior to that, Washington State emergency management.  He is the author of the strategy we now call "Neighbor Helping Neighbor."  More than one person remembered him and his "Never give up" mantra during the evening.
And there were others who received awards that evening as well, including four of the women pictured below.  Left to right:  Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes (Red Cross), Cheryl (on behalf of Delta Sigma Theta), Fire Chief Toni B. Washington, Dr. Meloyde Batten-Mikens (2012 awardee), and Fire Chief Debra Prior.
Here's Mary Anne McKown, author/synthesizer extraordinaire for some of our finest national documents, including the National Response Plan, the National Response Framework, and the National Emergency Communications Plan.  That's just a small taste of the work she began when she left Booz Allen become a government employee after 9/11.
Different stories for each of the awardees, but overall you could say that each of these women understands public service, the notion of giving back on behalf of something larger than yourself, and a keen desire to leave the world a better place.

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Earthquake planning

In yesterday's operational risk seminar that I teach at the University of Washington, our guest speaker was UW seismologist and information scientist Bill Steele.  In the first hour of class, he used a presentation he had recently made to state government on the development of an alert system that could mitigate certain types of public safety issues during an earthquake.  I've seen parts of the presentation before, and was struck again by the message that is driven home: disaster preparedness reduces costs over the long run.  And it may also reduce business interruption costs by as much as 20%.  Despite these facts, we are a long way from having an effective earthquake alert system in this state that could provide up to 3 minutes of warning before we felt the shock; and that could also be used to stop trains and elevators, and alert schools so that children could drop, cover and hold.

In our seminar the previous week,  I had talked about neuroscientist Tali Sharot's book, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.  For those of you who might be curious, I've included a link to her TED talk.

How does this optimism bias play into disaster preparedness at the personal level?  You have only to listen to some of your under-prepared friends and neighbors -- "It will never happen in my lifetime" and/or "I know it's going to happen but I have plenty of time to put my emergency kit and plan together."  Sharot calls this underestimating negative events.

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