Monday, January 19, 2009

ERM-BC-COOP: Neighborhood events

I currently hang my hat in Northern Virginia (despite my Fort Lauderdale-where-it's-much-warmer Florida address).

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. memorial day.

A Federal holiday.

The Metro light rail is running on a Saturday schedule - that means parking at the stations is free, but there are fewer trains.

Virginia Railway Express - VRE - trains are not running. Translation: If you ride the rails to work, plan driving in or staying home.

Normally, a Federal holiday would mean less traffic on the roads - major highways down to the neighborhood side streets. A Federal holiday almost always means a school holiday.

But not today.

Today there are reports of increased traffic.

High Occupancy Traffic (HOT) lanes that require two or three occupants per vehicle are in force.

Lots of the cars on the roads carry "foreign" license plates; plates from Florida, Oklahoma. Michigan - and rental cars with drivers from anyone's guess. Texas, even.

Seems that there's something on the District of Columbia (D.C.) calendar for Tuesday, January 20, 2009.

A presidential inauguration.

All presidential first inaugurations are "an historic event." This one maybe more so.

I work in the commercial or "civilian" sector - that's anyone who works for any organization other than a government, be it federal, state, county, (township), or municipal.

Translation: I'm was at the office today and I will be at the office tomorrow.

Since I don't work in The District (of Columbia), the fact that Virginia will close all the bridges into the national capital tomorrow is of no concern to me. If I did work in D.C., I would either have to take my chances that the Capital Beltway (I-495) is wreck-free and work my way around to Maryland from the east or more or less follow General Lee's path west to cross the Potomac at a place called Point of Rocks and, once in Maryland, work my way toward D.C. Neither option would be greeted with enthusiasm.

I still might not be able to get to work due to traffic restrictions so the only option I would have to show up at the worksite would be to haul my air mattress into work and camp out overnight.

But there is an option.

I can work from elsewhere.

I could work from the house.

I pay for a "high speed" internet connection. The company provides me with a notebook computer set up to access the corporate intranet (via VPN) and I have a token for multi-level authentication.

I also could present myself - since myemployer has multiple locations around the nation's capital - at most company facilities and be a "squatter," connecting into the corporate net sans my personal ISP. (OK, I also could park my car near the local Starbucks or McDonalds and take advantage of their WiFi connection.)

The company provides me with a cell phone - I'm on call 24*7 both as the division Business Continuity manager and as a member of the Crisis Management Team - so as I sat outside Starbucks or McDonalds, or as I hunkered down at the house with Franklin at my feet - I could field any calls from my "realm" that extends south to the Gulf and west to California. (My office phone's "I'm not here" message announces the cell number; security prevents forwarding calls to an external phone, just as security prevents automatically forwarding emails to a non-corporate address.)

The problem, however, is that maximum productivity can come only if I sit in a company office.


According to the company communications gurus, both Internet and cell phone traffic is expected to be extremely high Tuesday, and probably for several days thereafter.

At best, peak hour connections will be s-l-o-w (pity the person with a dial-up connection; their patience needs to exceed their mobility) and cellular communication will be degraded; per the gurus, "all carriers expect temporary call delays, delays in the delivery of text messages, and dropped or blocked calls for customers in and around the capital, especially during peak call times."

One of the many things an Enterprise Risk Management/Business Continuity practitioner (that's me) needs to consider is the impact of neighbors on the organization.

This was brought clearly to my attention several years ago by an HR manager - remember my maxim: you can't create a plan in a vacuum - who noted that my then-employer's neighbor was an insurance company staffed largely by retired military, a "target" for some activists.

(Never mind that the company employing me at the time was obviously Israeli; I suspect the company's neighbors - who had a high fence around their facilities - worried more about us than we needed to worry about them.)

Then the concern was for disruptions of one form (street blockage) or another (bombs).

The bottom line was that I became more aware of "neighborhood events."

Such events need not be threats of violence.

They can, and often are, something as innocent as a parade.

Or an ambulance call; someone fell or someone's heart started misbehaving.

They can, and more frequently are, weather related.

Anything that can hinder access to and egress from the workplace.

For employees.

For vendors - including the letter carrier and couriers.

For customers and potential clients.

(Yes, Virginia, leaving the workplace can be just as important - just ask a parent who has to pick up a child from school or day care, or a person on a special diet that has already eaten their mid-day meal, or a person on medication to be taken every "n" hours.)

These risks should be, in the grand scheme of things, mere inconveniences.

Providing that the threats, innocent or otherwise, are considered and that appropriate mitigation measures put into place.

Sometimes organization's have to "bite the bullet" and allow an interruption to run its course.

In the case of the inauguration, that means reduced productivity for a few days.

What about a production line?

For an event like "an historic occasion," expect many people to take a vacation day (or several) and a few more to come down with a one-day "bug."

Even that can be mitigated.

But in order to mitigate, the event must be anticipated.

That's easily enough accomplished for an historic event such as an inauguration.

It should be as easily accomplished for any other event.

Our business is, after all, to anticipate life's little - and not so little - inconveniences and to find ways to avoid or mitigate them.

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

No comments: