Getting Started on a Emergency Management/Business Continuity Program

The disaster domain is huge. The level of detail and specificity to which you can get is almost infinite. As such, it can be an overwhelming experience for businesses and nonprofits to get started with preparing their organizations for disasters.

In response to an email I just got from a former MPA classmate, I wanted to share some helpful thoughts on how to get started.

The Actions to Take

When discussing this topic, there are four main actions that organizations can take:

  1. Prepare for a Disaster (through planning, training, exercise and equipment)
  2. Plan for Response/Continuity of Operations (responding in the moment/maintaining operations, if possible)
  3. Plan for Recovery (getting back to normal)
  4. Mitigate Impact (stop things from happening in the first place)

Implementing into the Organization

There are many approaches and models to implement these actions (think program management vs. project management). However, the process typically starts with leadership forming a disaster committee of some sort to begin addressing the organization's disaster needs and corrective actions.  The committee then establishes a path forward.

Typical agendas are a variation of the following:

  1. Identify Risks and Gaps
  2. Develop Plan(s) to Address Risks and Gaps (keeping in mind the four actions mentioned above)
  3. Train and Exercise on Those Plans and Purchase Required Tools/Equipment
  4. Redo Steps 1-3 annually (or at designated intervals).

Given the typical resource constrained environment of organizations, there is a lot of potential to address "low hanging fruit" once risk and gaps are identified.  This is not perfect as the approach should be as comprehensive as possible, but it is helpful nonetheless.

The important thing is to not fall into a false sense of security because you have only addressed some of the risk and gaps.  The coordination of effort and understanding your strengths and weakness is vital to a successful disaster management program.

High Value Resources

Here are a few high value resources on what nonprofits can begin to do. Grant making institutions should consider baking some of these principles into their grant requirements.

Domain Headings

If you are looking to do more research in this area, especially as your disaster management program matures, you should look for resources in the following domains:

Getting Started

As a starting point, I highly recommend the following priorities:

  1. Develop a disaster committee led by someone willing and able to champion the effort
  2. Decide if it is best to shut down, continue operations at full or reduced scale, and/or respond to the disaster (i.e., support the community)?  This will help clarify how detailed the planning should be for all scenarios.
  3. Identify 3 targets for the next year (i.e., establish committee, develop a program plan, develop a plan)

It is easy to get overwhelmed.  Focus on establishing realistic goals and moving forward.  Any forward movement is better than no movement at all.

Market Driven Technology Innovation in Emergency Management

I recently attended a great demo by a new emergency management technology called Veoci.  This has great potential.  I even sent this along to my friend who works emergency management at a major airline. But as I look at the market for technical solutions and compare it against the problems of emergency management (and business continuity), which is increasingly cost-conscious, I realize there is a great divide between what is out there and what is needed such as feature mix, usability and scalability.  This post focuses on the innovative entrepreneur who wants to help the "disaster" solutions market go beyond its current technical limitations, provide a great service to its customers, and realize success.

Features and Specialization.  Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that product specialization is a key element of growth strategy and innovation.  After all, it is very hard to pinpoint precise problems and actually develop innovative solutions, even more so when the solution tries to do everything.  The more a company can continually test and improve, the more likely it is to solve customer problems beyond expectations.   But the problem is, where should companies specialize and how should they approach it?  This requires integrated innovation.

Usability, Scalability and The Fallacy of the "One" Solution.  In the past, many providers, especially at the enterprise level, have included feature rich solutions at the expense of usability and scalability.   In fact, emergency management is so dynamic and interdependent that one solution is simply not practical.  As a result, this model has proven tiresome, costly, and ineffective for our most important needs...collaboration, coordination, and management.  Additionally, and most importantly, it is not reflective of what is really needed, integrated innovation.

Integrated Innovation

So what exactly do I mean by Integrated Innovation?  I am defining this as the ability of companies to innovate through specialization, but better serve customers through integration.  Understanding this concept is most important to getting better market-driven solutions.  Here is what it entails:

  1. Focus on a niche - Select a very particular problem that you want to solve.  This is includes management and coordination, resource management, financial management, mass communications, and health and medical, etc.  Look at the many Emergency Support Functions to identify functional areas and explore them from tactical through strategic priorities and users.   Be the best at one really important thing.
  2. Build with integration in mind - If I only focus on one thing, what is the value-add?  Integration. Period.  Building your system with enough flexibility that customers can easily connect other systems that compliment your  product will enable customers to build a cost-effective and efficient ecosystem customized to their needs.  Should this integration be in the form of APIs, standards, a marketplace, user provisioning, or single sign-on?  The jury is still out, but the market will help drive this decision.  Just be prepared and begin forming technical alliances among other solutions so your customers don't feel like they are getting proprietary solutions that require customization after customization.  Start with similar size solutions to yours and look at how Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other social media solutions have built with integration in mind.  If fact, there is a now a secondary market of social media management and analytic tools (another market for emergency management)?
  3. Growth - Growth ties all this together.  In fact, that is why companies start in the first place.  They want to grow to a point where they have significant market share to realize profits and investor value.  But how should this occur?  It is highly unlikely that with a market full of solution providers, many will sustain themselves in the long-term.   The market is only so big.  However, that should not prevent anyone from developing a solution they believe in.  Solution providers should understand ALL their exit strategies and still feel successful whether they are bought-out or merged with another solution.   Either way, you have contributed meaningful innovation to the market, something that is sorely needed.

This post is my message to all solution providers and has a few more implications.  Help change outdated the procurement cycle and help drive innovation through your approach to development and growth.  The end result will be meaningful solutions that make your customers happy, not just "satisfied" with a solution that has too many features, is hard to train on, and does not reflect the emerging collaborative and interdependent landscape.  And regardless of your approach, user-centered design and frequent user testing should be a part of your solution.  Consider design thinking and agile development in your approach.