In this episode, Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser and Senior Consultant Jen Otremba talk about a recent storm in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul – and what happens after the storm hits for individuals and businesses.
What does a business do after the storm hits?
Topics discussed include building plans for natural disasters and severe weather, weather monitoring, crisis management processes and frameworks, and working through the consequences of a disruption.
Bryan Strawser: About two weeks ago you were running around flying helicopters.
Jen Otremba: Yeah, I was in California.
Bryan Strawser: Flying helicopters.
Jen Otremba: Flying helicopters.
Bryan Strawser: Two weeks ago while you were deployed to training, there was a pretty major storm came through the twin cities. We knew it was coming, you kind of see severe weather most of the time coming. It looked pretty bad as it came in.
Jen Otremba: Did it, did it like-
Bryan Strawser: It did. It was the darkest and greenest outside that I’d seen in a long time. It felt like night.
Jen Otremba: Oh wow.
Bryan Strawser: But it was nine o’clock in the morning. We knew what we were in for because we’d seen the forecasts and of course, we’re watching Twitter and we’re seeing reports come in from the west side of town. We live due north of Minneapolis.
Jen Otremba: It was during the week right? It was a weekday?
Bryan Strawser: No, it was a weekend.
Jen Otremba: Oh, it was a weekend.
Bryan Strawser: It comes in and it’s, fortunately the storm kind of split and went both north and south of us, but we got pretty high winds. There were 60 mile an hour straight line winds recorded not far from where I live. We got a significant amount of hail. I’m talking here, maybe like small rock size of hail. It wasn’t as windy where we were at, and so we just got a little bit of, we had a little bit of damage on the deck, not anything to write home about. I had friends who had trees come down, who had gardens destroyed, glass furniture, glass table tops on their outdoor furniture broken, landscaping shredded.
Jen Otremba: I saw on social media the snow trucks were out removing the hail and stuff from north Minneapolis, or it looked like they were plowing away.
Bryan Strawser: Coon Rapids is the one that stands out, where they brought out the snow plows to move the hail out of the street, there was so much of it.
Jen Otremba: Yeah, I know, I just saw social media, so I wasn’t here, but yeah.
Bryan Strawser: That’s only 10 or 12 miles north.
Jen Otremba: Yep.
Bryan Strawser: Then beyond the trees that caused the damage, I saw where hail came in and would catch this straight line winds and then get blown in [inaudible 00:02:28] just shredded it. [crosstalk 00:02:31]
Jen Otremba: Yeah, that’s what I saw.
Bryan Strawser: Fortunately we didn’t have that happen where I lived, but people to the south of us 20 miles and to the north of us 10 miles really got a significant amount of damage, without there being a tornado.
Jen Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: Was just hail and straight line winds.
Jen Otremba: Yeah, we think about big storm damage being the tornadoes that come through, but really these can be just as damaging.
Bryan Strawser: We were talking about this when it comes to our clients, when it comes to business. A lot of times when we get into these conversations about how do you recover from something that has impacted your business in terms of a disruption, we get into what I always think of as kind of some fanciful discussions about here’s the top 30 things that can happen, and we need to have a plan for all of these things. There is some validity to that, but really we boil these down to there’s really just a handful of things that actually impact you. There’s four consequences of a disruption.
Jen Otremba: Right. Those four consequences are what’s going to happen to your people is one.
Bryan Strawser: So your people could not be able to work.
Jen Otremba: Right.
Bryan Strawser: Is what we’re getting at there.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. For whatever reason they can’t make it to work because there’s-
Bryan Strawser: Transportation logistics problems, or-
Jen Otremba: Maybe there’s a tree in the road.
Bryan Strawser: Maybe there’s a tree in the road, or maybe the tree hit their house.
Jen Otremba: Or maybe something happened to one of their family members and they’re not in a place to come in.
Bryan Strawser: Right. There’s also the loss of your workplace, your facility, your office, your manufacturing hub destroyed, damaged, no power. It’s not usable in its current state.
Jen Otremba: Or at least partially not usable.
Bryan Strawser: Right.
Jen Otremba: Which is bad. Or technology, so the grid’s down and you can no longer get to your POS systems or your computers not working and people can’t work because the computers are down.
Bryan Strawser: You’re a retail store and you turn on your point of sales system this morning and there’s no inventory because the database has crashed or what have you.
Jen Otremba: Yep, or the internet is not working in that area because all of the towers are down.
Bryan Strawser: Then lastly there’s the fourth consequence we talk about, our third parties, your vendors. Where you’re relying upon them for a critical service. Maybe they are your service provider, right? You have a relationship with a vendor who does 80% of you backend processing, we have a client that does exactly that.
Jen Otremba: I was just thinking about them, yeah.
Bryan Strawser: They’ve a massive reliance on that one vendor.
Jen Otremba: Their mindset a lot of times is, “Well we have a vendor that takes care of that. That’s up to them to figure that out.” Well true, but if they’re down, even if they have a plan you may still want to consider the fact that you may be without that vendor for sometime.
Bryan Strawser: Right. Let’s dive into these a little bit. Let’s start with the team aspect, because our last episode of Managing Uncertainty we talked about personal preparedness, and that comes into play here because if your team is not prepared personally, they may not be in a place where they’re able to report to work in a disruption because they’re dealing with family preparedness response recovery issues, but there’s also they may be experiencing their own personal disruption. They may have lost a home, they may have had something happen to a loved one, maybe the issue isn’t a direct impact to your business, but there’s pandemic flu and the whole family’s sick, and so they can’t come in. You don’t want them to come in that situation.
Jen Otremba: Right, maybe they’re in the hospital, you know?
Bryan Strawser: Right.
Jen Otremba: I always think of it like people first. So if you can take care of your people, or if your people can take care of themselves then they’ll be ready to work for you as well. We think about that a lot in the military of course. If you can people first then they come and do the job after.
Bryan Strawser: The second consequence is your workplace. This can be everything from there’s no power therefore your facility can’t operate, to the facility’s been damaged, it’s been flooded, there’s no water. We had an issue when we were at our previous employer where the water main in the city inadvertently broke a water main. We lost all water pressure in-
Jen Otremba: [crosstalk 00:06:45]
Bryan Strawser: … in a multi-skyscraper building. When we gathered as a crisis team and we started the conversation about what do we do, the facilities guys were like, “There’s nothing to do. If we don’t have water and we can’t run the bathrooms, we can’t be in this building. We are going to have to make plans that in the next 90 minutes or so we’re going to have to shut down. If it’s not fixed tomorrow morning we’re going to have to not open the building.”
Jen Otremba: Right, and we had plans for that.
Bryan Strawser: We did have plans for that, but boy we had not dug those out in a while.
Jen Otremba: We had not dug them out in a while, but we did at least have a plan where we at least had thought through that. I guess think about the organization that you work with, is there a plan for that if that were to happen? Has that been thought through at all?
Bryan Strawser: For many positions there’s almost a default plan that you can go to. You can say for a lot of positions, look, we can shift them to working remotely, they can work from home, they can work from a co-working location, they can work from Starbucks.
Jen Otremba: Yes.
Bryan Strawser: You have a computer, they have VPN access, we hope, you can do email remotely. For a lot of positions that don’t require more hands on work, this works.
Jen Otremba: That works if where they’re at the grid’s still up, and where their home is they can still work from home, or they can easily get to somewhere.
Bryan Strawser: Or can we move them somewhere where they can do those things.
Jen Otremba: Right, or is there another location that can take over that work?
Bryan Strawser: Right. We had an issue that we managed through a number of years ago where we had flooding in a skyscraper and we displaced about 800 employees. This whole remote work thing became a really interesting conversation because it turned out that everybody could have worked. They all started working remotely. We set up temporary space in another building and literally one person came.
Jen Otremba: Yeah, they did it on their own because it was just easier to work remote.
Bryan Strawser: It was brilliant. Our plans didn’t call for that. We definitely had a learning out of that. Remote work is one thing that they can do, but then we get into this whole discussion about alternate workspace. There’s a lot of rabbit holes here that you can go really, really far down. You can lease temporary space and equip it with the right equipment. You can have space brought to you through a vendor that brings trailers out that you can work in temporarily. Then you have to also start thinking about specialized equipment and what’s required for that. We have a client that has a large remittance operation, actually it was two clients with large remittance operations and there’s some particular mail equipment that they can’t really operate without, and they’re going to need that, so you need to have the right contracts in place and plans on where you can go in order for that to work.
Jen Otremba: Potentially plans with those vendors as well that are providing them.
Bryan Strawser: Right.
Jen Otremba: It’s working remote, it’s working-
Bryan Strawser: Alternate work [inaudible 00:09:40]
Jen Otremba: Alternate workspace.
Bryan Strawser: There’s also the issue of if your business has multiple locations and that business exists, your team, exists in multiple locations, then you can reallocate the work.
Jen Otremba: Right, which is what I was initially getting at, but yeah.
Bryan Strawser: You can temporarily send more work somewhere. You could pay overtime, you could bring in temporary workers, you could bring in alumni that perhaps are still in the area. I saw that in a plan last week.
Jen Otremba: That’s a fantastic idea actually.
Bryan Strawser: It was great. They were like, “Hey there’s a lot of people that used to do this that are down in that office and so we’ll just reach out to them and offer to pay them overtime to come in and do-
Jen Otremba: That’s a great idea.
Bryan Strawser: … do work.” I thought that was brilliant.
Jen Otremba: Yep. We also have clients that have offices in other countries and they’re able to pass the work back and forth depending on what the workload is.
Bryan Strawser: You may be able to shift things to a vendor temporarily. You may be able to shift certain work to a vendor, but again you’re going to want these agreements upfront or you’re going to pay exorbitant fees.
Jen Otremba: Therein lies the plan, right?
Bryan Strawser: Therein lies your planning discussion.
Jen Otremba: Yeah.
Bryan Strawser: The third consequence of a big disruption is the loss of technology. We get into some interesting discussions here because we’ve had clients tell us, we’ve had units within clients say, “Well I need to be able to send email within an hour of a disruption.” We’re like, “Why?”
Jen Otremba: That’s always a fun discussion.
Bryan Strawser: Tell us why? “Well that’s how we move work, it’s how we assign work to the offices, the remote offices.”
Jen Otremba: Is there no other way to move work?
Bryan Strawser: Is there no other method?
Jen Otremba: Is there no other method?
Bryan Strawser: If you call them and say, “Could you do X instead of Y?” Would that work?
Jen Otremba: Right. Or if it’s the exchange server, maybe there’s another option.
Bryan Strawser: Exchange server.
Jen Otremba: Yeah, another exchange server, or text message, or all these other things that have happened.
Bryan Strawser: What if you IM them? What if you message them in Slack? These are all conversations that, this is a great one where I think challenge and collaborative discussion is valuable because you find these weird situations where I have to have WebEx within 30 minutes. But why?
Jen Otremba: Well I think it gets them to think differently too as to what other options are out there for them.
Bryan Strawser: What if WebEx had never been invented? What would you do?
Jen Otremba: It hasn’t been around that long.
Bryan Strawser: We had a client tell us that they have to have this messaging application and it can’t ever go down.
Jen Otremba: Right.
Bryan Strawser: Why not? Well because that’s how we manage incidents, we use this application, okay. It’s not the only messaging application in the world, there is another way to do this.
Jen Otremba: Yeah, so realistically there was a time where we worked without most technology, so let’s come up with a plan on how we can still accomplish the work and get the work done without certain technologies that you may have. Now that comes with limitations, so you know, maybe the internet’s down, but you can still pick up the phone and call potentially. There’s-
Bryan Strawser: Don’t be afraid, the phone is how people used to communicate.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. We used to talk face to face too, which is the weirdest thing. With that same client we had that conversation too of, “Okay, I know you work in a different building, but isn’t that building just up the street there? Couldn’t you have a conversation in person if you needed to?”
Bryan Strawser: With technologies we identify the technologies that you use as you think about a plan, and you kind of prioritize the recovery of these. In a bigger business you’re doing this with your technology team and you’re helping them building disaster recovery plans for those applications.
Jen Otremba: We joke about that, and I would recognize that some technology really is, that is how the business is done and without it the business can’t function.
Bryan Strawser: Or the technology is the product.
Jen Otremba: Yes, exactly. That’s definitely a possibility and it’s definitely a problem to have a plan for.
Bryan Strawser: We just like to joke about the email.
Jen Otremba: We do.
Bryan Strawser: In that situation nobody really needs the email [inaudible 00:13:27]
Jen Otremba: Right, really we can’t have a conversation over the phone or in person? Yes. There are definitely technology platforms that are what runs a business, and in which case plans need to be-
Bryan Strawser: Well the electronic medical records is a great example. We have clients in the healthcare business and those things can really not ever go down.
Jen Otremba: Right.
Bryan Strawser: I mean you need them to do everything from manage care to triage in the emergency room, to issue orders. Also to look for life threatening things like drug interactions. We’ve become reliant upon automated systems to do that and they need to be available in those situations.
Jen Otremba: For everything. I mean even to a retailer that may sell toilet paper for instance, it may be that for that hour that you’re out, your systems out, you may have to come up with that clipboard again to try to keep track of things. It’s not ideal and it’s not the most efficient, but it may be your answer in that given moment of time.
Bryan Strawser: The last consequence of a disruption is a loss of the third party vendor, you might say vendor instead of third party, but this is where you’re relying upon somebody for a critical service that you need. It might be an externally hosted technology provider like Salesforce for example, although Salesforce highly distributed, rarely goes down, if ever.
Jen Otremba: Because they have plans.
Bryan Strawser: Because they have plans in high availability-
Jen Otremba: Multiple locations.
Bryan Strawser: Yeah, high availability architecture. You know, we have clients that have critical vendors that they rely upon for significant portions of their work, and so this is where as a business you need to understand your vendors’ business continuity and disaster recovery plans, and what your contract says in terms of a service level agreement. What does it mean for them to be down for an hour, is that acceptable or not and where does that take you in the conversation? You can’t just say 80% of our work is done by vendors and then have no concept of what the vendor is going to do when they face a disruption.
Jen Otremba: Right. Because the vendor may not have a plan. It may just be that you’re going to be thinking, “Oh crap, now what do I do?”
Bryan Strawser: Right. We both were in a situation previous employer where critical vendor identified through our process that they didn’t have plans and we said, “This is not okay, something needs to be done here.” The risk was accepted and it turned out to be pretty detrimental to the business because indeed they could not function in a disruption. You have to look at those things.
Jen Otremba: Yeah. There may be an accepted level of risk that your leadership’s willing to take without having that, but they should at least know that it is a risk they’re taking.
Bryan Strawser: Right. So four consequences; loss of the workforce, loss of facility or workplace, disruption to your technologies, and disruption to your vendors, third party service providers.
Jen Otremba: Top four, have a plan.
Bryan Strawser: Have a plan. That’s it for this episode, we’ll be back in the future with another exciting episode.