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Making a Date with Crisis


Regardless of our circumstances we often share the same thoughts. The notion “It can’t happen here”, is such a common way of looking at disaster, that even Kissinger got into the act with his famous “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”


Humor aside, disasters happen regardless of what you had planned for the week. How badly they affect us, is determined by our ability to respond without warning to crisis situations.


The traditional approach to disaster planning is to create a methodology, install contingency plans, ensure that proper backups of crucial data are made, and place all this documentation in yellow binders on a shelf. If we’re diligent, we take it out once a year for some exercise.


This way of planning for disaster, while it provides many benefits, also contains a serious flaw. It’s not so much the cost, insurance always costs money. The flaw is more subtle, but is potentially serious enough to scuttle the best laid plan. It is this, Disasters by their very nature, happen unexpectedly. Our success is based upon how we react when we’re confused and don’t know what’s going on. Planning allows us to think through the process of what to do if (when?) something happens, before it actually occurs. That thought process alone is the central core of any contingency plan, but just thinking about it, isn’t enough. We have to go into the water before we know how to swim. We have to live it, to learn from it.


How to improve a disaster recovery plan? Given the stated nature of disasters, ‘unexpectedly’ seems like the right approach.


At 9:00am on a Monday morning, inform 50% (or a mere dozen if that would be too disruptive) of your management team, individually and personally, that they’re leaving immediately for a offsite location for an emergency meeting. No prior warning. No details provided. No excuses accepted. No notification to secretaries/assistants or clients allowed. In other words, just like a real life crisis.


When they arrive via the waiting bus, they’re told of the ‘disaster’ that has taken place. They are to respond to this ‘disaster’ over the next day or two. What is the ‘disaster’? That depends on how severe you want it to be and what you think would provide the best information.


Back at the office the remainder of the management team can take the exercise one step further and pretend the entire offsite team are victims of a disaster. This might be more than your organization can handle without severely impacting banking operations. The alternative is to merely explain what is going on and cope with their unexpected absence for two days. There is learning even this minimalist approach.


The exercise provides two benefits. First? An immediate and relatively inexpensive evaluation of how well your management team responds to crisis.


Secondly? In a very short period of time, with minimal impact to your organization, you highlight those areas most vulnerable to the ‘disaster’ you selected. With that in hand you can now move forward to a ‘real’ contingency plan with specific objectives in mind.


The objections to this exercise are obvious. You can’t afford the time. The regulators would object. You can’t afford the negative impact to the business. Your schedule is full next week.



Peter de Jager is a speaker, writer & consultant contact him via

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