Wednesday, May 21, 2008

ERM/BC/COOP: Unwanted help

I participate on a couple of emergency management (EM) lists. EM is, in many ways, the municipal version of disaster recovery and for some progressive governments, part of Emergency Risk Management (ERM) or Continuation Of OPerations (COOP).

A recent thread concerns some people who packed their bags and, uninvited, flew half-way around the world to China to offer their help.

The volunteers are experienced in what they do and normally would have been welcome.

But China sent them packing.

On the surface that doesn't make sense.

But digging deeper, we can see the Chinese reasoning.

Our volunteers arrived shortly after disaster struck.

They showed up on China's door uninvited - China wasn't ready for "guests" and had not even had time to sort out (a) who is needed to help out and (b) how to put these people to work for the most good.

The volunteers, rejected by China, turned around and went home - and apparently told the local press that China didn't want them; the local press then, apparently, blasted China: how dare it refuse volunteer help when it was in such desperate straits?

Volunteering is a funny thing: when you need one, they can be hard to find; when you are just sorting things out, volunteers just get in the way.

An aside: There apparently is a "clearing house" for volunteers where entities needing volunteers list their needs and volunteers can see if their particular skills are needed.

I am not criticizing either China or the volunteers. As Jack (Sgt. Joe Friday) Webb would say, "Just the facts."

As ERM/BC/COOP practitioners, we could face the same problem as China albeit on, hopefully, a far smaller scale.

Something goes bump in the night and two things typically happen:

  • People show up to help right things
  • People show up wanting to know how the "bump" impacts them

Our plans need to consider the possibility and include ways to mitigate the problem. I don't think there is any way - given human nature - that we can totally avoid the problem, but it can be mitigated.


With on-going education and a decent communications plan.

On-going education means making it clear to new hires who has what responsibility in what type events. On-going education means reminding these people, as they become "old timers," that nothing has changed; they still need to know their responsibilities (particularly as they may change over time).

Communication means to have established - and advertised - channels before an event so the troops (from intern to senior exec) know where to tune for the latest information. Could be the local electronic media, email (if available), a neighborhood laundromat's cork (message) board; any number of options PROVIDING everyone knows in advance.

These really are "no brainer" concepts; they are common sense, but they must be in place before "stuff" happens.

John Glenn, MBCI, SRP
Enterprise Risk Management/Business Continuity
Planner @

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