Business Continuity Tip of the Month

Are you sitting comfortably?

For many organisations, a crisis management or business continuity exercise is seen as a necessary evil, conducted grudgingly every year or two in order to address an audit finding or tick a compliance box. Because of this, and/or the ever-popular justification that “some of the team members have changed since the last exercise, and we don’t want to put the new ones under too much pressure”,  the resulting exercise is often far from challenging, comprising a fairly low-key discussion of the issues that might arise, rather than any kind of realistic, stretching event.

A discussion-based approach is all well and good for a first exercise – after all there is much value in identifying issues and follow-up actions in this way – but this ‘comfortable’ type of exercise doesn’t usually challenge the participants to any great extent and certainly doesn’t adequately prepare them for the real thing.

We’d probably all agree that our respective fire services are pretty good at putting out fires. This is largely because, when they’re not putting out ‘real’ fires, they practise putting out fires. And the fires that they practise on, although not real in the sense that it’s not someone’s home or office that’s ablaze, are actual fires, with real flames and smoke and real actions taken to deal with their effects. A key point here is that the firefighters typically don’t just sit around a table, enjoying coffee and biscuits, and have a nice cosy chat about how they might put out a theoretical fire or carry a theoretical person down a theoretical ladder; they physically go through the processes involved in putting out actual fires.

That’s not to say that the cosy chat approach isn’t beneficial from an educational point of view, particularly for new recruits, but it’s usually the precursor to involvement is a series of far more realistic exercises.

Whilst it’s not being suggested here that we should actually torch our building for the purposes of an exercise, there are many ways in which we can make our exercises more realistic and challenging. And, rather than treating each exercise as a one-off, box-ticking activity, making it deliberately low-key so it’s not too difficult for the new players, we should think in terms of a programme of exercises, raising the proverbial bar each time. If we’re really worried about how any new team members might cope, we should seriously consider a separate, initial cosy chat-type session before the main event, rather than keeping the bar low for everyone.