PlanB Consulting

There’s no business, like snow business…

Last week the ‘Beast from the East’ combined with Storm Emma to cause the UK’s worst weather in years. In today’s bulletin, Charlie looks at the lessons BC professionals can take from the incident to prepare for future severe weather events.

In Scotland there are still dirty black piles of snow left in car parks and I saw lots of snow in the corners of fields on my train journey from London to Glasgow yesterday. Whilst much of the evidence of last week’s snow has gone, I felt I couldn’t avoid talking about the recent weather in today’s bulletin.  

My overall feeling of the management of last week’s snow is that the government got it relatively right. They warned us about the incoming weather and their predictions were fairly accurate. The fault lies in businesses failing to prepare or ignoring the warnings, with many individuals following suit.

So, what can we learn?

1. In my opinion, the government has improved in terms of warning the public. They have an straightforward warning system and their predictions are reasonably accurate. The public are very quick to complain when the warning is not as bad as predicted, but also complain furiously when the warning is as bad as predicted. The government sent out warnings several days in advance, stating that bad weather was on its way, so there was little excuse for individuals and businesses to be surprised when the snow arrived. So, lesson one is to listen to government warnings, as they are fairly accurate.

2. When severe weather is incoming, organisations need to have a process of assessing the situation, including working out the potential impact on their organisation and deciding how the organisation would deal with the situation. They need to have a cross-process team, which is empowered to make decisions on behalf of the organisation and they should make sure that there is a single source of decision making across the organisation, so HR aren’t being sent home whilst finance are told to stay until the end of their shift. As well as being able to make decisions, they need to be aware of when decisions need to be made. In Scotland, many organisations sent their staff home on Wednesday afternoon, just as the red warning was coming into force and all public transport was starting to close down. Two of our staff were travelling back from Edinburgh and said the last train to Glasgow at 2pm on Wednesday had the same panic and air of desperation as the last helicopter out of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War!

3. There was a very good point made by Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Minister for Transport and Islands, when he looked at the vehicles stuck overnight on the M80 motorway. The majority of the vehicles, according to the liveries on the side, were transporting non-essential goods. Businesses need to think about whether their goods need to be transported at the height of bad weather. Could they not have put on extra vehicles either before or after the bad weather? Again, this points to lack of thought and preparedness by the industry.

4. I suspect many BC plans throughout this period lay unloved on the shelf or only used when the worst of the weather hit. I am a great believer in using your business continuity infrastructure prior to an incident occurring; so you get the BC team together and you plan your response and then you provide communications  to staff how the organisation will manage the oncoming incident and any ways delivery of service will change.

5. This are a multitude of issues associated with bad weather and obligations to come to work. Should staff be paid, take annual leave or make up the time? What is the organisations duty of care when there are amber or red warnings? Organisations should not be scrabbling around trying to work out their responsibilities and duty of care at the last minute, while it is snowing and there is a red warning coming into force in 2 hours. This is all work which can be prepared and thought about prior to an incident occurring. Whilst the law is the same, every organisation has different requirements and staff contracts, so this is best thought through in advance.

6. I think this incident was a little different, as is not often that almost the whole country is closed down due to snow and because it was light snow rather than the damp wet snow we usually get, it lasted longer and therefore had more of an effect than previous snow incidents. Weather events, such as storms and flooding, usually only affect one part of the country, so it was unusual for last week’s snow to affect almost the whole of it. I am not sure how many organisations had plans in place where the scenario is employees not being able to get into work for several days. This was an example of a different sort of incident, which many didn’t have plans for. Is there a tie-in with global warning and are we likely to get more of these events? We have to be aware that whilst we can prepare for similar future incidents, the next one could be something different.
My take away from the snow is that it shows the lack of preparation, planning and decision making from many organisations. This is an opportunity for us in the business continuity profession to raise our relevance and get some traction with senior management to continue our planning roles.

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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