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Wednesday, April 13 2011

The year is flying by and this month we have our first Royal Wedding of the year, no doubt a joyous occassion for many but an added complication for those of us involved in Business Continuity planning as we have to think about this added threat to our daily operations.

We deal in threats on a daily basis, whether it is severe weather, terrorism, demonstrations, issues with our IT infrastructure, mass staff absence etc, but what about the things we cannot plan for, the unknown unknowns? A term that is being used more frequently in the world of Business Continuity is Black Swan events, these types of event are a surprise (to the observer) and have a major impact, but after the event it is rationalised by hindsight.

When I wrote last month, I talked of the social unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and flooding around the world. It seemed at the time that that things were pretty well as bad as they could get... they weren't. 8 days after my last posting, on 11 March an earthquake measuring 8.9 hit 130km off the East coast of Japan. Japan is used to earthquakes, it is an Island that sits where 4 tectonic plates meet - the Pacific Plate, the Othosk Plate, the Amurian Plate and the Phillipine Sea Plate. Earthquakes are a way of life to the Japanese, and they get on with things and do what they are meant to do when the earthquake alarms go off. Their buildings are built to withstand quakes, and 10m tsunami walls around most of the coast line are there to deal with any Tsuunamis. So what turned this into a Black Swan event?

The earthquake hit with such ferocity and power that the country dropped by 1m. As the quake was 130km out this allowed the Tsunami to create some momentum which led to 10m high waves, the 10m tsunami walls were now 9m, the water poured over and you will have all seen the pictures of the devastation that was caused. A wall of water became a wall of rubble, houses, cars, boats, anything in its path was taken and moved en masse. In hindsight, Japan was due a big earthquake, that would push the boundaries of what they had prepared for, but hindsight is a great thing to have. We will not know the full extent of impact of the earthquake for possibly years to come but already in Japan people are trying to go about their business and keep things operating.

So the question for all of us, is could they have planned for this, built bigger walls provided better protection for their nuclear power plants? Maybe, but as Business Continuity practitioners we know that it is almost impossible to plan for every eventuality, businesses who have to take time out from earning money to test and exercise like tests that mimic what is likely to happen, the more far fetched the less likely they are to buy into it, and make the exercise work. Our job is to push the boundary for them, take it further than it would normally go, introduce some "what if" scenarios that are plausible if not that likely and keep challenging our businesses to think about how they can keep calm and carry on. If a Black Swan event hits we need to have challenged our businesses previously so that they are in the best possible place to deal with the situation.

And why the linkage between Swan and Royal Weddings.... well swans are a protected bird, the long and the short of it is you need Royal assent to eat swan (Act of Swans 1482, but more recently with the Wild Creatures and Forest Law Act (1971)... unless of course you live in Orkney who are able to eat them under Udal / Norse Viking law!) So Swans and Royal Weddings will likely impact what we do in our day to day lives whether we like it or not, and the way 2011 has been going, sooner rather than later!

Posted by: Jon Seaton AT 11:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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