Preparedness, Business Continuity, and Risk

A recent study indicates that a two day interruption of key business functions could cost your business $3M.  As most businesses are in urban areas, you could face much worse. One of my clients is located in Ferguson, Missouri and they have had weeks of disruption.

If your company is to continue operations during an upheaval, then the people who do the work must have the skills and resources needed to get through each workday. This requires a common-sense approach to urban survival planning for your employees rather than trying to create urban survivalists who grow an acre of food, raise goats, and live in underground bunkers, or worse having an entirely unprepared workforce. As most of your workforce probably lives in an urban setting, this bears serious consideration.

After researching this topic for several years I have come to the conclusion that you can’t train all your employees. You must select key people and train them and then make every reasonable effort to retain them. This may require a change in the corporate culture. It will certainly require looking beyond the next quarterly results.

Unfortunately, most business owners are risk-takers. They will see a major urban upheaval as an unlikely event. They will take the risk that during their tenure the event will not occur. This characteristic also explains many business failures, data breaches and large scale fraud events.

Business leaders need to understand their risk-taking behaviour. Without this risk-taking the business wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, this same risk-taking may also destroy the business. Does your business have a risk committee of the board and does it consider this risk? Many businesses have an audit committee and compensation committee, why did so many abandon the practice of  having a risk committee?

The full board has overall responsibility for risk oversight and this mirrors board responsibility for overseeing strategy. When an audit committee takes responsibility for risk management, the result is usually, in my experience, unfocused and inept. They do not have the skills and knowledge needed to evaluate all the business and operational risks faced by the enterprise. Audit committees often obscure the transparency needed for effective risk management and risk oversight by authorising such things as off-balance sheet transactions.

A separate risk committee of the board is not a one-size fits-all solution, but companies facing rapid changes in the business environment and emerging risks such as new technologies and security threats, should have a risk committee. Deteriorating urban infrastructure, poor city governments, inept policing, IT security, and other factors that affect business operations in our degenerating urban conditions certainly advocates the creation of a proper risk committee with business continuity on its agenda. The committee usually requires independent directors with specialised knowledge and experience with the critical risks facing the enterprise.

Murder starts with your Mouth

The excellent book The Dark Side Of Man reports that David Luckenbill studied all of the murderers in a California county over a 10-year period and asked them why they killed their victims. All the death row inmates interviewed listed one of only two reasons for killing:

  • 34% said they killed because the victim challenged the killer’s authority
  • 66% said they killed because the victim insulted them in some way

What matters is the criminal’s perception. If he perceives a challenge or an insult, he is more likely to kill you.

This information provides a basis for planning a strategy for dealing with criminal violence.

Understand that the criminal is not operating under the same moral imperatives as his victim. A large proportion of violent criminals are psychopaths without any empathy for their victims. Never think, “He won’t shoot me because I wouldn’t shoot him in the same situation.” You would be wrong and this will cost you your life.

False bravado will also get you killed. Criminals learn to quickly judge people and use that judgement to manipulate them. Your bluff will be transparent and you will experience a violent response to your challenge.

Never insult an attacker. There is a big difference between screaming “GET AWAY FROM ME!” and screaming “GET AWAY FROM ME YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” Insulting an armed criminal will not yield positive results.

Be especially cautious during the times when the criminal is under the most stress and be chose your words carefully, especially at the early and end stages of the attack.

Develop a verbal response for the most likely scenarios you may face rather than thinking on the fly, just say exactly what you have practiced. Your script should avoid any challenging language or insults. Deliver your script in a calm monotone even if you are planning violent resistance. Surprise is a very potent weapon in your arsenal.

If you are in an environment that exposes you or your staff to the risk of criminal attack, then The Dark Side Of Man is a book you must read.

Know your enemy and plan to prevail.

Surviving a Calamity

I sometimes hear someone argue that specialization has weakened society as individuals now have fewer skills with which to survive a calamity. This argument presupposes a sudden reversion to a rude state of society and that such a change would become permanent. This seems unreasonable to me as it assumes that we would not work to restore what we lost.

Of course, any person with skills suitable for employment in a more primitive society would be more comfortable until we attain our former level of development. Once this happens, this person’s skills again become irrelevant.

The question of how much time and other resources we devote to acquiring the skills needed to survive and thrive during a calamity remains unanswerable.

Normalcy Versus Risk

Feral Dogs

In the past I have written about the risks associated with feral dogs. Currently, the town of Kenora Ontario is experiencing some difficulties with feral dogs. Having a pack of feral dogs circling your house is not something to take lightly.

When Knives Attack

The recent Calgary mass murder illustrates how people assess risk wrongly. Statistics Canada reports (in 2008) that one-third of homicides and attempted murders involved edged weapons. That is more than any other type of weapon. StatsCan also reported that edged weapons were used against six per cent of victims of violent crime while firearms were used against two per cent of victims. Yet most people and organisations dither over plans for mass shootings.

Knives are easy to obtain, easy to conceal, they don’t run out of ammunition, and they cut in any direction. No training is required and if you can move your hand with the knife in your grasp, then you can kill with it.

This type of crime occurs quite often. Here is a recent sampling:

  • four people were stabbed in a Regina shopping mall
  • student was stabbed at a Brampton, Ontario, high school
  • four coworkers stabbed at a Toronto office by a man who was being fired
  • two people killed and four wounded in a Loblaw’s warehouse stabbing attack

Of course the knee-jerk reaction will be to ban assault knives. Of course all prohibitions fail miserably and probably make the situation worse as happened with the ‘war on drugs’ and ‘gun control’. Some foolish individuals will no doubt say that the StatsCan figures prove that ‘gun control’ works and we now need ‘knife control’, no doubt a knife registry will follow.

In the Calgary case, the accused probably took the knife from the kitchen and then started his rampage. I’m sure registering their kitchen knives after getting a licence to buy them would have stopped this attack.

Risk Assessment

Whether it’s feral dogs or knife attacks, you have to measure the relative probability of the event occurring against the consequences of the event. We are hard wired to believe that we live in a safe world–if we weren’t, then we would never have ventured out of our caves to create the world we now live in. This is called the normalcy bias.

Normalcy Bias Vs. Risk

I am paid to respond to situations where the normalcy bias got the better of someone or to plan for situations that nobody wants to contemplate. Decades of experience has taught me that nobody wants to contemplate the low probability, high consequence events.   Legislation and hand wringing won’t change this–planning, preparation, and training might. Unfortunately, the interest in preparation and training wanes quickly as memory of the event that spawned this dissipates, and thereby allowing the normalcy bias to reassert itself.

Contingency Planning

Recently, I wrote about the dangers of government action when preparing for adverse conditions. While conducting some research on this topic for a planning document I came across a couple of interesting examples.

In the old Soviet Union during the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe, it became illegal for an ordinary citizen to possess any type of radiation meter.  I came across reports that Japanese police confiscated radiation meters from citizens who were taking their own measurements after the Fukushima disaster.

Perhaps I should have recommended that the client read Fuller’s The Day We Bombed Utah.

Hazardous Material

The Emergency Response Guidebook published jointly by the Canadian Department of Transportation, Mexican Transportation agencies, and the USDOT lets you identify the hazardous contents of pipelines, trucks, or trains from the placards on the side of the tanker, rail car, or pipeline. The guide lists specific hazards and evacuation distances for spills or fires. However, it doesn’t provide any spill/fire/explosion protocols.

If you are around hazardous materials and their transport conveyances then you need this guidebook.

Risk Assessment Adventure

Once you acquire good research skills, you can apply those skills to support many endeavors. Recently, I have been doing risk assessment matrices for Business Continuity and Emergency Response planning.

One such job involved identifying the risks to a Business Continuity site. This site was in a rural area outside a large city. I collected the usual maps, aerial imagery, and satellite imagery of the site. This revealed a zoo was nearby. This led to the examination of a risk that few would normally consider — wild animals.

While the predatory carnivores such as lions and tigers seemed to be the greatest risk, we also learned that the large non-carnivores owned by zoos and feral livestock can be very destructive, especially to the fencing intended to keep out the carnivores.

You might not think this would be a risk, but just think of why a Business Continuity site might be in full operation and the risk become obvious. It would be operating due to a black swan event and that would probably entail the failure of normal utilities and services. Many of these animals would eventually escape due to broken fencing or be released to fend for themselves. The prospect of a number of large cats or grizzly bears loose near the site sparked a search for some very strong fencing.

This led us to examine which animals would be the most dangerous over a two year period. The most dangerous animals soon after a catastrophe would be feral dog packs followed by any domesticated pigs let loose and feral hogs. Neither of these animals are afraid of people and in a major disaster they might resort to feeding on corpses which would make a living person also look like a good meal. Hogs and pigs also represented the biggest risk to the fencing.

After the dogs and hogs, the greatest risk seemed to be Grizzly Bears. These animals are dangerous predators that are not afraid of man and they are adapted to the North American climate. The next was the lions and tigers. Next came the lesser cats and canids if they escaped from the zoo. In the two year span none of these zoo animals seemed to present a great risk if recent history in war zones is any guide.

Along with the dogs and hogs, it seemed that vermin such as rats and mice would be the constant threats, not the exotic creatures from the zoo.

Do you carry a pocketknife?

“Without a pocketknife, a man isn’t properly dressed.”
– My Father.

According to the Los Angeles Times, an 11-month-old girl died in a burning car 28 Aug 11 because no one on the scene had a knife to cut her out of a car seat. The article clearly illustrates that a knife would have saved the child’s life while another article illustrates just the opposite result:  Father’s Day knife saves accident victim’s life.

I wonder how many times events like this happen without comment in the accident report or news media?


What’s in Your Wallet?

I came across an article on lifehacker entitled, Use an Old Gift Card to Keep a Bit of Duct Tape With You at All Times. I’m sure the article’s author is a Canadian at heart.

In recent months, I have travelled all over Eastern Canada, and here’s what has migrated to the bottom of my briefcase.

Everyday Carry

It’s surprising how often these things get used. The compass on the match case is really useful when I get twisted around on a back road and don’t know what direction to go. The white duct tape on the Maglite makes it easy to find in the bottom of a black briefcase as well as holding things together.


The Toilet Paper Shortage of 1973

The writers for Johnny Carson heard that the U.S government was having a hard time getting bids for the supply toilet paper and that it might be possible that in a few months the United States could face a shortage of toilet tissue.  They took the words of a Wisconsin congressman who said this, Harold Froehlich, and decided to add a joke for Carson for the next evening show.

This had some far-reaching and unintended consequences.

Read more

Nonverbal Warnings

The following short article is quite good and it has an excellent bibliography. If you conduct interviews, this stuff is important.

How to Prevent Crime BEFORE it Happens
Written by Damian Ross

Crime is never unpredictable. Before a lie is spoken, a pocket is picked, or an assault is inflicted, each and every criminal gives off silent cues. They can be as subtle as a shrug of the shoulder, a pointed finger, or an averted gaze. But together, they make up a nonverbal language that speaks loud and clear if you’re trained to see it…

BoB’s your G.O.O.D. Friend

BoB is short for Bug-out Bag. BoB will help you Get Out Of Dodge (G.O.O.D.) fast. The Toronto propane explosion should be a strong reminder that we have to look after ourselves when things become chaotic. Running out of the house in pajamas and slippers is not a good survival strategy.

It doesn’t take much to have an inexpensive but rugged day pack in the front hall closet along with a pair of good boots and socks. Good boots are perhaps the most important item. When the White House was evacuated on 9/11, the area was littered with shoes that came off as people fled. If you can’t walk, then you can’t get away from the danger.

Water, food, a good knife & multi-tool, flashlight & candle lantern, clothing & rain gear, first-aid supplies, and maps should reside in BoB. Medications, money, ID, and important documents should be organised nearby for a quick getaway. This should get you through 3 or 4 days.

If you travel by car a lot, then a BoB clone should reside in your car. The same applies to your office if possible. My briefcase contains a mini-BoB.

Briefcase Survival Kit

I was cleaning-out my briefcase and was surprised to find that I am well prepared for a disaster. I have always carried a little nylon pouch with a few things to make life easier. A flat lint brush, one of those foam things in a plastic case to shine my shoes, antihistamine tablets, band aids, moleskin, safety pins, etc.. Over the years this has grown into an urban survival kit to include a whistle and flashlight, money, Swiss Army knife, small forceps, twine, cord, lanyards and chains, a pair of shoelaces, hand sanitizer, lighter and more.

What I find even more surprising, is that I am using this stuff more often.