Crisis Management

Crisis Planning

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership, 4-ExtPost

This Is Just a Test:

In a panel conversation this week, one of the panelists noted that a lot of companies, who thought they have solid emergency plans, discovered that they did not. That’s the bad news. Of course, the good news is that for many, the pandemic is a reasonably straightforward way to test our systems without real structural damage.

The panelists made these comments with compassion. Many people have gotten sick, have long recoveries in front of them, or died. So, no one was making light of the situation, just taking note of what has happened.

The Big One

In southern California, many of us make contingency plans based on a large earthquake disrupting our workforce being able to get to the office. So the disaster recovery plans have included the need for employees to work at home.

I worked at a company in the Northeast when I graduated from engineering school. The factory was located across the street from an active regional airport. I was part of a team that put together a massive disaster recovery plan based on a commercial aircraft missing the runway and landing on our building instead. Since this was in the early 70s, there was no way for folks to work from home. We had to relocate the large data center comprising several large water-cooled mainframe computers. It was a fascinating project for me.

Testing the Backups

It turns out that the pandemic gave us a chance actually to test our infrastructure for working at home. There were many failures in the plan. Some employees didn’t have significant internet access. Who will pay for the upgrade? Our security systems were horrible in some cases because we had to “punch holes in our firewalls” to allow employees to access the office servers. Some employees did not have portable work computers, and their home computers didn’t have the required software to complete their assignments.

I learned a long time ago that I have to not only make sure my computer backups are working. But I have to delete and then restore a couple of file types to be sure that I can recover critical data. In a sense, the pandemic made us all test the backup systems we’ve put in place for disaster recovery.

Wakeup Call

We have now had a chance to see if our work-from-home emergency planning was sufficient. In many cases, it was not. Those who rang out their infrastructure ahead of time have done well during this lockdown.

So now, ask these questions of your IT team and disaster recovery team:

  • What if Microsoft gets hacked and Office Products are not usable?
  • What if Google Docs is inaccessible?
  • What if Google Servers, Amazon AWS Servers, or Microsoft Cloud Servers go down?
  • What if “the Big One” hits and freeways are inaccessible? Supply chain? Employees?
  • How will you communicate the situation with stakeholders?

We need workarounds for all these eventualities, and that isn’t easy to do or to test.

Learning and Doing

I am confident that each of us has learned one or more critical lessons from our pandemic experience. The trick is to make sure our companies do not lose that learning, that it is “institutionalized.” And we will have new challenges going forward.

In my area, the schools claim they will be open with no restrictions. We’ll see if the parents agree with that. However, in surrounding counties, the schools will not be open for in-person attendance for the fall semester. So, as employers, what accommodations will we make for parents who need to stay home with children? How will we decide, and how will we make sure we are consistent in our decisions? How will we address all the issues we’ve learned about having remote employees?

These are the challenges that keep leaders up at night. If you haven’t already addressed these issues, I hope you will do so sooner rather than later.