Effective planning for business continuity

Tongues have been wagging and many are expressing their shock and sadness at the recent impact of Hurricane Irma and more recently Hurricane Maria on our region. I join in extending condolences for the loss of life and have committed to lend assistance wherever I can.

In the instance of a category 5 hurricane which has accompanying wind speeds in excess of 160 miles per hour, it’s absolutely little that one can retain or preserve from a physical perspective. Which means in the case of households, one remains at the mercy of the elements.

So far, my family’s planning for the season involves buying extra sets of water as well as increasing our existing storage, stocking up on non-perishable foodstuffs, checking batteries, ensuring there is essential lighting and the usual. Honestly there hasn’t even been a real emphasis on securing important documents which are regrettably all stored in different locations in the house.

The reality is that our contingency methodology is not fool proof as our preparation has been more for heavy rain and the potential power outage and water outage for a few hours. So honestly we have not planned for a major hurricane but more so for tropical storms or, I dare say, a tropical depression. I’m sure many other Bajans are like me in this regard.

Far too often we plan for bare minimum and never plan very far into the future. This could be attributed to the fact that Barbados has not had a major impact in over 50 years. As we have seen from the recent occurrences, very few of us plan for an eventuality where there is a prolonged power or water outage or where our houses are damaged to the point that we are exposed to the elements.

This has been a real important lesson for me and from here on in, I intend to put better mechanisms in place to mitigate against any long term fall out both personally and business wise. Statistics show that given the sparing we have had as a country, something is bound to come soon. No I’m not calling it but the inevitability is glaring.

While that is for the household, as a business consultant, my focus here is on the business perspective. How many of our businesses have continuity plans in place? How ready are we to be able to pick up the pieces after a disaster or, in other words, what is our level of resilience? Today I challenge our businesses to remove the complacency. Decide today to be prepared.

Good business planning is more than the projections, economic forecasts and running good marketing campaigns but it’s also considering the potential risks and planning accordingly. How many of us have our customers’ details kept in one file or similar to many clinics and doctors’ offices who relish in hard copies alone? How frequently do we do drills? What health and safety plans have we instituted?  Have we considered storing our data in more than one location?

How many have plans which detail where every key document, activity or strategy can be traced, if there was a fire, storm, flood or even an earthquake? How many have honestly detailed a thorough plan for recovery after an eventuality? How many businesses have identified personnel who would be rostered during and after a system? Have you considered a phased reopening plan dependent on the magnitude of the disaster? Can your business operate without power?

Would your systems be compromised? Do you know the emergency numbers? Or numbers for the technicians, artisans and persons who will assist in the restoration? Can you resume operations alone or does it depend on other factors or other employees? Where are your offsite storage facilities? Do you have a copy of your floor plan? (Whether rental or building owner), do you have a strategy for if you lose all of your hardware? Is your insurance coverage sufficient? Do you have other contingencies in place?

By now you should get my drift. Ostensibly, we can only build resilience if we have good and tested plans. I hope that these experiences have given us enough impetus to start to prepare if we do not have any real plans in place and also to look at our existing plans to see if they can withstand the elements or if they, like me, have only considered them as short term inconveniences.

The Caribbean has for so long suffered from natural and, I dare say, man-made disasters and our vulnerability is not diminishing. In fact, it is increasing. Given the destabilization that is happening with the climate, we are now experiencing unprecedented changes in the atmosphere with speed of temperatures increasing. The earth is getting warmer. Research shows that we are two degrees hotter than a hundred years ago. 

Also, it is reported that a hundred years ago, carbon parts per million (C02ppm) had been steady for thousands of years between 250 and 300. Today, we are 407. It’s said to be increasing three points every year for the last decade. This is due to the burning of fossil fuels.  There is no denying that this new phenomenon which is currently labelled as global warming is impacting the frequency and the magnitude of these weather systems.

Businesses would do well to reduce their carbon foot print as well as put business continuity plans in place.

(Lisa Gale, a former executive director of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry is an international trade and business consultant with Lisa Gale Consulting.)

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