Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review your Crisis Plan. Do it Now

The crisis at a nuclear plant in Japan is a sober reminder that crisis plans need to be reviewed, tested and updated regularly. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Tokyo Electric Power’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Nuclear Plant had a disaster plan that was last updated in 2002. The plan downplayed the potential for damage from external events like earthquakes and tsunamis. The plan directed most emergency communications to be done via fax.

Via fax.
I’ve seen crisis plans that still have pager numbers listed for key executives. Perfect if they have to be notified of a crisis in 1982. (Hat tip to the writers of “30 Rock”)
Here’s what the Fukushima plant’s disaster plan said about the possibility of a worst-case-scenario disaster:
"The possibility of a severe accident occurring is so small that from an engineering standpoint, it is practically unthinkable."
There are so many things wrong with that statement I barely know where to start. First, when I hear something is unthinkable, I hear someone choosing inaction because it's is either too hard or too overwhelming to consider. What’s unthinkable to me is the abdication of responsibility that TEPCO captured so perfectly with that sentence.
Here are three things you can do today that can make your crisis plan better:
Check your notification procedures: Look at the list of people to be notified in an adverse event. Is there anyone on the list that no longer works there? (I’ve never reviewed a notification procedure list that didn't include a former employee) Does the list include cell phone numbers and non-work email addresses? Call a few numbers on the list and see if they are accurate.
Check scenario assumptions: Does the plan focus only on operational events unique to the facility or plant? Let your imagination run wild and test the plan’s assumptions against the most horrific scenario you can imagine. What can happen externally; something over which you have no control that can impact your operation? Start planning for that event. Better yet, plan a drill.
Confirm integration with external agencies: You will rarely respond solo to a major crisis. Are the right external agencies included in your plan? Do you know how they will respond to a crisis involving your organization? Have they seen your plan? Have you seen their plan?  
We all have great faith in technology and engineering. Both make our lives better and in normal times keep us safe. But technology can fail and engineering has limitations.
Remember, your crisis plan is fundamentally flawed if it fails to account for the two things that never, ever operate from an engineering standpoint: Human beings and Mother Nature. 
Bill Salvin

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