PlanB Consulting

Don’t Push The Red Button . . . .

This week I have been asked to write about an item which you won’t have seen on the news.

A “friend” who shall remain nameless (to protect the guilty) wanted to talk about an incident which occurred to him and which he thought was an instance, which business continuity managers could learn from.

 My friend went to his holiday home to sort out some issues with the house and have a short holiday, leaving his staff in the office to get on with the day to day of running a small but successful business. He left leaving an issue regarding the lease of the office building outstanding, thinking that the problem was not a major issue and it could wait until his return. All staff turned out one morning to find that they had been locked out of the office by the landlord. The staff attempted over the next 3 days to try and contact the friend by email, telephone and mobile but couldn’t get hold of him.

The friend on the other hand was blissfully unaware of the situation due to the fact that the telephone provider had cut off his holiday home’s telephone and broadband. The provider said it would take two to three days to fix the problem. There was no mobile signal in the holiday house, so each day he drove some way to get a mobile signal. On getting his emails on his mobile phone he didn’t see the frantic emails from the office staff due to his inbox being full as he hadn’t connected his laptop to the internet to download them off the server.

The long and short of it was that he was completely unaware of the issues. Some quick thinking by the staff and negotiation with the landlord was enough to solve the problem and when he returned the issue was all solved.

This was a very minor incident but I think it is very systematic of major disasters.

When there have been major incidents such as the Bhopal gas disaster (over 3,500 where killed) or the Piper Alpha explosion (oil rig explosion killing 167). There was never one event which caused the incident, such as someone pressing the big red button which said “do not press” and rig exploded, but it was a combination of factors which taken all together caused the incident.

Often when these incidents occur there has been an ongoing legacy of poor management and safety standards and it is the combination of these factors. Each one on its own is not catastrophic, but when they happen all simultaneously it can cause a major incident.

 And the lessons. . . .

  1. If you run a chaotic system, then you are more likely to have an incident than if you don’t!
  2. Do you know how to contact your senior mangers when they are away on holidays? Do they leave the relevant information of where they are staying during the holiday, so you can get them at their hotel or if they have a holiday house? Especially if it is somewhere remote, do you have the house number or know how to get in touch with them?
  3. Do you have alternative means of communication in place if your main form of communication is affected? Do mobiles work in your office or are you in a mobile black spot. If there is building work near your office there is a reasonable chance that a JCB could cut your network cable into your office severing your internet and telephone communications.
  4. It is a minor issue, but have you considered mailbox size during incidents? Often during an incident you may have heavier email traffic and also you may fill up your mailbox very quickly. You don’t want to spend vital time during an incident deleting emails or attachments if your mailbox is full. Increasing mailbox site – could you with part of your plan agree with your IT department in advance?


Feedback for the Bulletin….

“This is a good story Charlie, Kind regards.”

David Hitchen, BSI Group


About Charlie Maclean-Bristol

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is one of the Founders and Directors of PlanB Consulting. He is also the Training Director of Business Continuity Training Ltd., a UK-based training provider accredited by the Business Continuity Institute. Charlie is a former Business Continuity Institute board member and one of the very few Fellows of both the Emergency Planning Society and the Business Continuity Institute.

A former Infantry Captain in the British Army, Charlie held several emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management positions within the energy and utility industry before founding PlanB Consulting in 2007. Over the past twelve years, Charlie has delivered business continuity consultancy in 6 of the worlds 7 continents, frequently providing full business continuity roll-outs to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.

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