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In the Southern Ocean everybody can hear you scream!

This morning I heard a news item on the radio about Russia seizing the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, which had been protesting about Russian oil drilling in the Arctic.

The crew of 26 activists had been held at gunpoint and then detailed by Russian Security Officers…

On the BBC website it was saying that this incident might turn into a very awkward diplomatic stand-off.

This reminded me of a conversation I had had the day before, while I was working for a client in Sweden. I was working with a man named Anders, doing awareness training for all the staff in his office in preparation for ISO22301 certification. We were discussing careers and he was saying that when he lost his IT job in London, due to the credit crunch, he considered working on a protest boat as a change of career, as he was a qualified mariner. He said that harassing Japanese whaling boats in the Southern Ocean rather appealed to him. I made an off-hand comment that with confrontations between whalers and anti-whaling boats in the Southern ocean you are very much on your own, as there are no police out there to keep the peace.

Thanks to this isolation, whalers and protesters may carry out acts they wouldn’t get away with on land. Anders turned round and said that anything that went on out at sea would be filmed and instantly be uploaded by satellite broadband to the internet, so what went on in the middle of the Southern Ocean would have the same level of scrutiny and exposure as in the middle of a city.

For the Greenpeace protestors this is exactly the same. Although the confrontation took place in the middle of the arctic, film and still pictures of the event are still available. Given that the event is in today’s news, almost instantly after the event, shows how quickly events get from the scene of an incident into the mainstream news.

Recently I saw an excellent slide presentation on the internet about social media and the recent plane crash in San Francisco (email me if you would like a copy), which showed the social media timeline of the crash. A startling fact for me was that there was film on twitter of the crash, even before the planes escape slides had been deployed!

So how does this, as business continuity people, affect our business continuity plans and response?

1.    I think we need to be able to react to events very quickly. An event involving our organisation may be in the news. We should think about how quickly are we able to set up our crisis management structure and respond to and comment on the event?

2.    If the event first appears on a social media channel, is your organisation able to respond to the event on the same social media channel? What is your sign off protocol for social media? You may be in a position to respond, but can you get your response signed off quickly? In these circumstances do you need to get your side of the story across quickly or are you waiting for hours for a senior executive to be found to sign off the organisation’s tweeted response?

3.    If the event concerning your company is on one social media channel then you should respond on that channel. I met with a client on Monday who was very firmly of the opinion that they didn’t do social media. It occurred to me that if they weren’t on social media they couldn’t respond to comments made about them. Even more dangerously they didn’t own any of their twitter accounts. Imagine an incident where you are trying to manage your response to an incident and get your side of the story across, your stakeholders are looking for a response from you and you don’t own the twitter account.

4.    Lastly your Head of Security or senior managers need to be aware that the actions of your (usually low paid) security guards may have a large role to play in an incident. If protestors break into your office or site to protest, a heavy handed response by security guards to the protesters, filmed by other protesters, may turn public sympathy from your organisation to the poor protesters being beaten up by brutal security personnel. You go from the victim to being the villain almost immediately.

We shall see how the artic Greenpeace protest plays out in the media…

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