Prior to these recent attacks, workplace conversations here had been focused on business continuity risks from a massive wave of war refugee migration and the “domino effect” chain reaction as business, schools, universities, government agencies and social services attempt to manage the continuity of operations from the near overwhelming influxes. Subsequent to the Paris attacks, the discussion topics have shifted to coping with a wide range of issues arising from the seemingly unprecedented attacks. Here in Western Europe the horrific terror attacks in Paris have caused anxiety, uncertainty and a wide range of sudden business disruptions.
Anxiety and Uncertainty
This terror attack resulted in death, destruction and disruptions throughout the city, nation and region. In the short term, authorities warned residents to stay inside. The city has closed many public buildings, and military reinforcements have been mobilized. The French President's office announced the state of emergency, which allows authorities to limit people's movements and impose zones of security and protection. Shops, businesses, schools, museums, libraries, health clubs, swimming pools, food markets, restaurants and other public facilities were closed and operations halted. Both Disneyland Paris and the Eiffel Tower were closed.
"It's kind of an under siege Paris right now," - CNN Report
France experienced a number of days of living/working under a state of emergency after a series of deadly terrorist attacks. The words "horror," "massacre" and "war" peppered the front pages of the country's newspapers, conveying the shell-shocked mood. There has been a rise in fear and fearful behavior in the aftermath shock of these attacks. People are concerned and seeking both information and reassurance.
Employees who had work schedules or projects that included meetings with French colleagues found themselves in a highly uncertain situation in the days following the attacks. Business travel, conferences and other business meetings were left in limbo and many employees frankly didn’t know if they could or should travel to pre-arranged work sessions.
Office and faculty work schedules for the day and weeks following the attacks were unknown and there were confusing rumors and misinformation circling about. From my perspective, although the first two days after the attacks were weekend days, there was a great deal of angst and uncertainty regarding what to do and where to go and when. The immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks demonstrated vividly the need for emergency notification capabilities and advance plans. There was, and remains, a dramatic need for accurate, reliable and practical information. Also, the need for real-time situational knowledge was also apparent.
The ripple effect of uncertainty reached beyond the French borders into many parts of Western Europe. It served as a reminder that even those beyond the immediate geographical area of the event must be prepared for rapid command, control and coordination communication functions.
Social Media played a significant, but still insufficient role to meet the information needs. On one hand, in the immediate context of the attack, those who were out for evening as the mayhem unfolded were offered refuge in nearby bars, friends' homes and even the apartments of strangers posting on social media. On the other hand, social media information was sporadic and at times inaccurate. There was ample opportunity to harvest information from social media, but preparedness to capture, process and use that information remained limited.
The disruptions impacted international logistics, transportation, supply chains and business travel disruptions as well. There were complete border closures (France, Belgium) enacted and expanded security screenings and police checkpoints resulted in delays even where some traffic was still moving. Shipments and movement via truck, train and air travel were all disrupted.
An organization’s resiliency is directly related to the effectiveness of its continuity capability. An organization’s continuity capability—its ability to perform its essential mission critical functions continuously—rests upon a number of key components, which all are in turn built on the foundation of effective communication.
Those key aspects include continuity planning, program management, assessment, evaluation, revision and updating. Functional areas include crisis leadership development, staff education and training, crisis communication, supply chain management, resources and facilities resilience.
According to an article in the Evening Standard (London, UK) reporting a CBRN comprehensive survey, only one in four businesses has effective plans in place to deal with major disruption, such as a catastrophic bombing. Presumably even fewer have contingency plans to manage significant attacks on a major metro area or region.
Are You Prepared?
Paris, like the terror attack in Mumbai, and other similar style attacks, serves as a reminder of the importance of incorporating the specific threat/risks of terrorism into continuity and contingency planning. Attacks such as this most recent series in Paris could occur anywhere in the world at any time. I sense that it is no longer a question of *if* such attacks like this most recent one might disrupt your operations but only a question of when.
Your contingency plan(s) should provide “plan B” roadmaps for how production or mission-critical services would continue without significant disruption. Also, the plan should include specific aspects of issuing the activation, notifying key employees, vendors, suppliers, distributors, customers, regulators, local officials, stakeholders and community members of the “changed operations.” In fact, the capacity to communicate is essential to continuing operations and keeping everyone informed and coordinated despite the disruption and high levels of uncertainty. A modern, efficient, high-speed, intuitive-designed and extremely reliable two-way communication tool is critical to managing continuity of operations and implementing your plan.
It is optimal if you have a high-speed, outbound notification system capable of broadcasting voice, text, email and automated survey messages. High-speed notification is one of the most powerful tools available to management in managing continuity of operations. The ability to easily deliver hundreds or even thousands of messages to your employees/team members within seconds makes the difference when trying to avoid confusion, disarray and dysfunctional uncertainty during a disruption event. The tools should make it easy to launch messages from any phone, smart device or web connected computer.
In addition, an interactive message retrieval system designed specifically for contingency situations is essential. Ideally, the system would provide leaders and employees the ability to post and retrieve important (and even secure) messages from anywhere in the world. In many contingency events, the disruptions can impact critical infrastructure as well. Back-up power generators, emergency supplies and alternative worksites can be crucial for successful continuity of operations efforts. One essential “back-up” that sustains your ability to stay in contact and stay in business during such events is a web-based backup phone system. Using a cloud based PBX phone system that will field calls into your phone system in the event that system goes down or becomes unavailable for any reason. It is important that calls can be routed to employees at pre-designated alternate numbers, including mobile phones, VOIP, back-up land lines or any other available phones. All call flows and menu options available to your callers through the backup system can be easily programmed to mirror your current or primary phone system. From your team’s (and customer’s) perspective, any unplanned communication failure, or forced relocation can be managed to allow your operations to experience “business as usual.”
Due diligence requires an increased risk and impact awareness, continuity preparedness, planning and coordination with public and private partners. While our heartfelt sympathy and compassion goes out to those who have been harmed in the Paris attacks, our thoughts and mindfulness should also think about plans and preparation for when the next event threatens safety and operations.
Images: The Guardian & Observer; www.liberation.fr; www.mb.com; respectively