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Planning for the worst

PHUKET: The environmental question posed in June 1’s edition of The Phuket News was “Is Phuket Courting Disaster? Andrew Durieux – founder and director of Bangkok-based Coverage: a company specialising in Business Continuity Planning, and a regular consultant to the UN, WHO and International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies – contacted us to give his considered answer:

Friday 15 June 2012, 02:48PM


Andrew Durieux.

Read the original report here:

As a provider of Business Continuity Planning (BCP) services for almost 20 years, across a wide range of industries, and on four continents, I agree with some of the material reported on. I would like to highlight some matters of interest to your readers however to clarify some of the effect (if not the intention) of the report.

Firstly, BCP, or BCM (Business Continuity Management), is something that all managers of any operation, be they government, NGO or private business, should have in place to protect them from the unexpected. Anyone can plan for things that are expected – that’s basic business as usual. It’s the things you don’t expect that really hurt.

I constantly deal with clients that ask me for a plan for last year’s event. While this is admirable and reasonable, the same event has not occurred twice in a row, so why would you plan only for last year’s event?

No government departments and business operators that I know of correctly predicted SARS, the 2004 Tsunami, H1N1, military coup, airport closure, H5N1, Ratchaprasong protests, the floods. Yet many were affected either directly or indirectly.

Second, many people think that insurance or financial protection is sufficient to
allow recovery. This is not the case as highlighted by the floods last year in Central Thailand, and there are many cases where insurance cover is either denied or just not applicable.

Business reputation is one to be highlighted here, and flood insurance, even with sound defences, is now very difficult to find in Thailand.

Third, the article highlighted that the BCM presented was marketing his own services, and did this in a way that seemed mocking. BCM is a relatively new profession and skill. There are currently very few qualified practitioners in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

Qualifications are normally provided by the Business Continuity Institute in the UK (www.thebci.org) or an equivalent in the US. There are no university degrees in Thailand that teach the subject.

I should note that I do not know the presenter in any way, so cannot vouch for his experience or qualifications.

Fourth, the attendees at the event were also looking for some suggestions or recommendations, and it seems there were healthy discussions on the area of government preparations, regulations and improvements.

This is the key area I believe. Any government will have limited resources (including funding) to cover all possible disaster events, and they must prioritise for the most likely events and then to protect the most number of people and critical services.

Countries like Thailand have slowly built up resilience in these areas through economic improvements, safety standards and harsh experience. There is now a basic tsunami warning system for example that was not even considered prior to 2005. However, there is still much to be done.

The government also cannot micro-manage all locations under their protection, so regulations are made, and individuals and business operators are required to undertake some activities by themselves.

Bangkok buildings for example are required to have fire evacuation drills, and all new buildings are required to have sprinkler systems built in. The government cannot save all drowning people within one minute, so swimming skills are a personal responsibility.

Business operators want to maximise their profits, so they will always ask others to perform tasks which cost money or time, if this is at all possible.

If factory owners can get the government to build dykes in central Thailand, they will not need to build them using their own money. If the government does not supply the dykes the business manager will either decide to relocate or build their own dykes.

Both the government and business operators need advice on risks and on how to minimize the occurrence of these risks, as well as minimize losses should the risks occur. This is where the environmental and other experts are appreciated. If we know that a part of Thailand is prone to floods, or tsunamis, or earthquakes, then the government and business can plan for this. If we know how fires spread we can make appropriate and safe evacuation plans.

A key message of seminars such as the one on May 23 must be that it is almost certain that a large scale disaster will strike Thailand again soon and unlikely that anyone will accurately predict the exact time, location or process of the disaster. This means that neither the experts or the government can advise or protect all business or individuals under their care. Indeed no government in the world can do this at any time. This leaves the government and business owners/managers with a dilemma – they know there will be a disaster, but they cannot plan for it.

A complicating factor in Thailand is that the cultural system discourages individuals in all groups from openly expressing concerns for future bad events, believing that voicing such a concern will mean accepting the blame for such an event actually occurring at some future time. Experts can provide advice, but it is often ignored by both the government and private businessmen. Witness the warnings of the tsunami a number of years before 2005 and subsequent sacking of a prominent individual expert.

So now to the advice.
1. All business operators should have in place at least a generic Business Continuity Plan (BCP) or system at all times

2. All business operators should support government initiatives towards risk reduction and governments must develop appropriate regulations based on sound advice from experts, and then enforce these regulations without corruption or favour for the benefit of all.

3. For business operators, identification of key assets and process need to be understood at all times.

4. Contingency plans (or Plan B’s) should be at least considered for all these key assets and processes, and these should be understood and practised regularly by multiple employees.

5. Documenting these plans will assist staff in understanding the requirements and ensure they will work when needed, and will identify equipment, training or other things required to make the plans work.

6. Keep contact lists up to date at all times and store numbers for key people (at least your direct boss and any direct staff) in multiple locations and formats.

More specific advice will only be relevant based on the specific business operations. A factory with expensive machinery and dangerous chemicals located in a flood zone needs very different advice than a hotel with 500 rooms based on a beach in Phuket whose major customer groups don’t speak English.

I believe that seminars such as those provided in Phuket, and however briefly attended and supported by key government officials should be appreciated and the advice followed more often – even if it means employing the speakers who normally provide generic advice openly at such events.

A key note in the June 1 report was the concept of responsibility.

All government officials and business operators have a responsibility to at least consider plans for major disaster events that may strike at any time – working together to prepare only makes common sense.

 

 

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