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Business Continuity Starts with Survival: Lessons from Irene

business continuity, hurrivance Irene, mid-atlantic hurricane, mean ireneWhenever there is a natural disaster, you consequentially hear about disaster planning and business continuity, with stories and tips literally coming out of the woodwork.  Usually it centers around the all-important data backup, file management, saving equipment, and of course, the safety of employees.  When the TV and Internet are blanketed with images like this one, the frenetic story tends to blur the lines between fact and fiction, important and insignificant, and often courage and stupidity.  Here’s a little wake up call I got within the last 48 hours that in 46 years of life, I never had to experience.

Make Decisions Rapidly and Don’t Regret

Where do I start?  It’s been the week of calamity in my little slice of paradise called Ocean Pines, MD.  In fact, the entire east coast of the United States is seeing some things within the same 5 day span it has never seen before.

First, we have an earthquake that rumbles from Virginia to points north, felt away as far as Canada.  I was with my 10 year old son on his last fling prior to school, enjoying the day at Jungle Jim’s Water Park in Rehoboth Beach, DE.  When I checked my phone in the storage locker after a late lunch, I got the text from my loving but unfunny wife, “Did you feel the earthquake?  Are you guys all right?”

Well, frankly no, we felt nothing, but enough people in the country did to tell me this was no joke, and in fact could have been a lot worse.  Well, that was Wednesday’s discussion at the gym in the morning.  A full week, right?

But wait, there’s more.  I hadn’t been paying attention to the start of hurricane season and the witch called Irene brewing in the Bahamas.  After getting my work done in my virtual office on Wednesday night, I finally listened to aformentioned wife long enough to look on weather.com and realize this wasn’t ye ole tropical depression 500 miles out in the Atlantic. 

Uh-Oh!  Once gathering all the facts as we knew them and hearing the hundred and first warning from Jim Cantore to “Take this one seriously!”, the next thing you know we are planning an evacuation.  I spent the next 36 hours getting a boat pulled out of the water, lugging a 1-month old dehumidifier from my crawl space, and moving furniture from my first floor to my second to save furniture in the increasingly likely event of a storm surge in excess of 6 feet.  My heart bled as I watched my wife break down into tears at the thought that this stuff may be gone when we return in a few days.

We bugged out of town at about 5 pm Friday, about 16 hours in advance of when we thought we might, as mandatory evacuation and martial law became the order of the day.  For all you readers who always wanted the easy life at the beach, this is NOT one of those times!  I have a number of friends and associates riding it out and ignoring the warnings.  Their decision.  It wasn’t mine.

LESSON:  Life comes at you fast.  As much stuff as you have to do in life and business, sometimes you just need to react to the best information available and make a call.

Live to Fight Another Day

I have a ton of stuff on my plate.  I nearly missed and ultimately didn’t complete 4 SmartVu video interviews with clients on the west coast, didn’t finish a LinkedIn project that I planned on completing, and oh by the way, didn’t pull the trigger on selling another 20% of my stocks with the market rise on Thursday and Friday.  Preoccupied.

hurricane irene, projected path, business calamity, business continuityI got to thinking that my main business continuity plan was to cease doing business, take the conservative route, and make sure that I survived what was shaping up to be a calamity that I have never lived through in a hurricane.  All intelligent sources pointed to this being a sure thing that would not miss us and wander out to sea, and that losses in property and, unfortunately, lives could be enormous.

On Saturday as I write this, I am sitting at a friend’s house in Frederick, MD, I am watching live footage of those who, in my view, have crossed the line between passionate and brave enthusiasts dedicated to the craft of surfing, and idiots that make people who run with the bulls in Pamplona look like stoic librarians reading Walt Whitman poetry on Saturday night, said fools in the surf scant hours before the eye of the storm strikes where they are right now.  I have seen massive risks taken in business in order to achieve a consequential gain, something I couldn’t find here.

Can we lose the distinction between calculated business risk and foolhardiness?

I’m a one-man business with a host of talented subcontractors I can use as needed.  I had no shipments to make or project deadlines that were not self-imposed, a terrific benefit for those of us in high-value professional services.   I also didn’t have to catch a super wave not seen on the east coast of Maryland before. 

LESSON:  Practice the business continuity plan to survive the unknown, get out of Dodge, and live to fight another day.

Focus on the Success

So here I am, not knowing how much of my house will be left in 24 hours.  Clearly I will have at least some insurance claims to deal with, some out-of-pocket deductible on tap, and the complete dissatisfaction of knowing that I am not alone, many thousands will have the same headaches if not outright tragedies on their hands, and that it will take weeks if not months to get fully back in the saddle.

Yet here I am, writing to you on a borrowed computer at a friends house.  I am not getting helicoptered from the top of my roof with my house 1/2 under water and on a weather channel highlight.  My 5th grade son and wife and I are safe, along with our 2 dogs Buddy and Ginger, said pooches playing and getting into trouble and completely oblivious to any potential loss.  To canines, the most important thing is, they’re with us, they are alive, and there is food in the bowl.  Other wants are secondary and forgotten with the next chase around the coffee table.

Ultimately this week will provide a story, the magnitude of which has yet to be decided.  I am happy and healthy, so is my family and so is my business.  When disaster strikes, your business may not be so easy to move about.  You may have inventory, hundreds of employees, and real estate that stands to be lost.   Although tougher to convince yourself of, that’s what your insurance is for.

 LESSON:  Focus on the positive aspects of what you can control and leave the rest up to God.

If you or your business is affected by this storm, the earthquake, or any other calamity natural or man-made, I wish you the best of success in surviving it and coming out on the other side that much more grateful for the price you did not pay.

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One Comment

  1. Jacqueline November 29, 2011 at 4:35 am #

    I suggest adding a facebook like button for the blog!

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